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Family Life And Structure

Turkey has a young age structure: 10 percent of the population is under five years of age and 32 percent below the age of fifteen. The percentage of the population sixty-five and over, however, constitutes only 6 percent of the total. Life expectancy is sixty-six years for men and seventy-one years for women. (TDHS 1998, p. 4). The literacy rate in 1998 was 94 percent for men, and 74 percent for women (UNICEF 2001), but few adults have progressed beyond primary school.

Households. Households in Turkey hold an average of 4.3 persons. In urban areas, this figure drops to an average of four persons; in rural areas, it rises to 4.9. Only 5 percent of Turkish households are single-person households, while two in every five households have five or more members (TDHS 1998:4).

Today, about 70 percent of Turkish households are nuclear, with at least one child and both parents, and 20 percent of households are extended families, married couple living with other kin, mostly the parent(s) or other relatives of the husband. Even when a household is classified as nuclear, most often close extended family members will be living in very nearby. About 5 percent of households can be defined as dispersed families, in which single parents or some kinfolk living together. Polygamous households are statistically negligible, but remain despite their illegality.

Marriage. Since the enactment of the republic's 1926 Civil Code, municipal authorities perform marriages in a secular ceremony. Marriages carried out only by religious authorities are considered legally invalid, so people who want to be united in a religious marriage must do so after their official service. Nevertheless, despite this clear requirement, it is estimated that religious marriages (those not accompanied by civil ceremonies) often take place, especially in the eastern and southeastern parts of Anatolia. Therefore, the number of marriages appears lower than it actually is because religious marriages are not included in official statistics (SIS Marriage Statistics 1997).

Even taking only the official statistics into account, however, marriage is almost universal in Turkey. By the time women have reached their early thirties, 93 percent are or have been married, and by the end of their reproductive years, only 2 percent of women have never married. The 1998 Turkish Demographic and Health Survey found 15 percent of women aged fifteen to nineteen to be married (THDS 1998). Divorce rates are very low. The crude divorce rate of Turkey is less than one per thousand per year, quite low when compared to international divorce rates, and much lower than those of Europe. In 1999, the crude divorce rate was 0.49 per thousand.

The diversity of marriage ceremonies and customs reflect the regional, urban, rural, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences within the country. In rural areas (35%) and small towns (30%), the girl's family receives a dowry from the groom's family. Newcomers to metropolitan areas (25%) are not always able to give a dowry to the bride's family. Among the established population in metropolitan areas (10%), many couples marry later, after they complete their education. Parents give their children substantial presents and may assist them financially, at least in early married life. There are many colorful varieties of weddings, but most couples marry with the bride wearing a white wedding dress, and the groom a dark suit.

Fertility. Turkish families greatly value children, and the desire to have children is universal. Traditionally, families prefer boys over girls. Women at the start of the twenty-first century gave birth to an average of 2.6 children. Childbearing occurs often between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, with the highest fertility rate among women between twenty and twenty-four. There are, however, wide variations in fertility levels among regions, with the highest rate in the east (4.2 children per woman) and lowest in the west (2.0 children). Women living in the east marry nearly two years earlier than those living in the west. Fertility also varies widely with urban and rural residence, with women living in rural areas having an average of almost one child more than those living in urban areas. Education levels affect fertility levels, with those lacking a primary education having an average of almost one child more than women who have primary education, and 2.2 children more than those with at least a secondary-level education (TDHS 1998). Overall, when asked how many children they would choose to have if they could live their lives over, women gave an average ideal family size of 2.5 children, which is very close to actual fertility rates.

Maternal and child health. For many years Turkey has been troubled by infant and child mortality rates that are higher than might be expected, given the economic and demographic figures of the country and other development criteria. The infant mortality rate (a reflection of overall child health in a society) is about forty per thousand, and among children under five, the mortality rate was about forth-eight per thousand in the late 1990s. Infant and child mortality rates declined in the past decade. However, the infant mortality rate in the rural areas is about 1.6 times higher than in urban areas. Infant mortality rates are lower than the national average in the western and southern regions, close to the national average in the central and northern regions, and nearly 1.5 times higher than the national average in the eastern region (TDHS 1998). Among other factors, children's chances of survival are closely related to the parent's levels of education (Gürsoy 1992).

Medical care is another important factor in the reduction of mortality rates, which drop significantly if the mother has received both antenatal and delivery care from health professionals. If she has received neither, under-five mortality can be as high as 116 per thousand and infant mortality as high as 95 per thousand. About three-fourths of births now occur in health facilities, although this figure varies from around 44 percent in the east to 87 percent in the west. About 80 percent of all births are assisted by either a doctor or a qualified midwife-nurse. Infants born less than two years after a sibling have a considerably higher chance of dying. For these children, mortality risks are 2.8 times higher than for children born after an interval of four years or more (TDHS 1998).

Almost all babies are breastfed. The median duration of breastfeeding is twelve months. Most children are also given supplementary foods and liquids at an early age, which medical authorities consider not only unnecessary, but a potential source of infection. Twenty percent of children under age five are short for their age; this is more prevalent in rural areas, in the east, and among children of uneducated mothers (TDHS 1998).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsTurkey - Geography And Demographics, Family Life And Structure, Issues Related To Family Life, Changes In Family Life