Population Site: Articles and Papers
Turkish Population in the Great Depression

Author: Frederic C. Shorter, Visiting Scholar, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington. E-mail: c/o support@hpntech.com

Publication: "Turkish Population in the Great Depression," New Perspectives on Turkey vol. 23 (Fall) 2000: pp. 103-124. Istanbul: Tarih Vakfi (Economic and Social History Foundation of Turkey). Reproduced with permission. Copyright (c) 2000 Frederic C. Shorter.


The 'Professor' is not a machine for giving lectures, but is a resource to the students -- one who inspires them to investigate and question, one who guides them and one who is able to sustain their enthusiasm for study and research. The real professor is himself a lifelong student. (Resit Galip, Minister of Education, Istanbul University, 1933) [footnote: Speech delivered on the occasion of the university reforms of 1933. Kindly passed to me by Prof. Dr. Olcay Neyzi]


During the 1930s, in the higher circles of public life and the professions, the Kemalist excitement and energy for establishing a great new nation was strong. Leadership came from many individuals, each offering what he or she could do to involve younger persons in the process. The state was not yet a robust civil institution, as it lacked economic resources, especially during the 1920s and the depression years of the 1930s. It was only beginning to gain experience in dealing with and taking the lead in civil affairs. Policies and practices more often than not emanated from the discourse and activities of coteries of energetic, often courageous, individuals, rather than from the state officially. These self-styled aydinlar (enlightened ones) were leading the nation.

The location of most of the leadership, the print media, and newly founded, though fragile, civil associations was Istanbul, still the city where the social elite preferred to reside. Yet the city comprised less than five percent of Turkey's entire population. To be sure, Ankara also participated, as did individuals in some smaller, older urban centers, such as Bursa and Izmir. Eventually, civil structures of the central government and programs-particularly in education, health, and agricultural technology-began to appear in many more locales throughout the country.

Among the leadership there were distinct (though not always fully agreed-upon) ambitions for the population, demographically and socially. We can try to assess these perspectives and the policies by examining written sources and by taking advantage of personal oral histories. [footnote: Kathryn Libal kindly drew my attention to some of the sources that I use in this paper. See her paper in this volume about child welfare, which is also one of our concerns as it impacted on rates of reproduction and population growth.] Some inferences about the depression years come from the demographic situation that we believe, based on demographic analysis, to have existed in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Three censuses -- those of 1927, 1935, and 1940 -- provide a wealth of detail that has been used by demographers to learn about the demographic structures, changes over time, and vital rates. The inferences we make today are not necessarily the same as those prevailing among contemporaries in the 1930s. An example is the difference between our own and contemporary perceptions of vital birth and death rates, which we find to have been much higher than realized at the time. Did this difference matter, we may ask, and would policies and actions have been any different had there been better statistical information in hand? We shall see later in the paper.

A main theme is that Turkey's population had been ravaged by wars and migrations. From both contemporary and historical points of view, more people clearly were needed to populate the relatively empty, or recently vacated, land spaces, as well as to fill in age/sex groups and family structures that were deficient relative to acceptable norms for the social and economic order. While the events that produced the fractured demographic situation were compressed in time, the processes by which a large population recovers demographically are stretched over many decades. This is the very nature of demographic change: it is slow relative to many other kinds of economic, political, and social change. We study these timing issues spread over the decades from the 1920s to the 1950s and beyond. A certain continuity of demographic problems and events existed during the years of the Great Depression, up until 1938. Then -- just as demographic recovery was contributing to economic progress -- came the re-mobilization for war. The massive reallocation of manpower to the army halted the growth of the economy. Even though, fortunately, there was no engagement on the battlefields, mobilization was demographically devastating. Child death rates rose and fertility dipped temporarily -- a blow to the state's hopes for an increase in population.

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Population Growth

Of course, the cry for a larger population was not unique to the period of the present study, yet it was strong throughout the 1930s. In 1934, the Parliamentary Committee on Population of the Republican Party wrote, "Although the importance of the population on economic grounds is fully recognized today in Turkey, the goal of promoting the strength to defend our vast land is the most important." The party committee then urged a doubling of population as soon as possible. [footnote: Cumhuriyet Halk Firkasi Grubu Nüfus Komisyonu, Rapor. 1934. Ankara: TBMM Press, p. 25. Quoted by Orhan Türkay (1964).] There is an understandable rationale for the party's request for population growth. Memories were still fresh about how the nation was secured via military means. For the future as well, military capacity was believed to be supremely important. Adding to manpower for this purpose implicitly would require many years of population growth, because individuals would have to be born at a steady rate year after year and grow up to the eligible ages for military service.

Driving the point home, the state's mouthpiece, Cumhuriyet, editorialized, "If we have many people living in Turkey as Turks, no one will occupy Turkey. When the Greek army occupied Turkey, they thought that there were only three million real Turks and that the rest were Greeks like themselves, Kurds, and others. It was a surprise when the 1927 census counted 14 million. Only 8 million were expected. We hope to find even more population in the1935 census." [footnote: Free translation, 29/9/35, p.1.] Ercümend Ekrem Talu wrote, "There can be no more serious scarcity than that of population." [footnote: Cumhuriyet 19/10/35, p.5.] A 1935 headline in Yeni Adam proclaimed an ambitious goal for the nation: 50 milyonluk Türkiye [A Turkey of 50 Million]. The article stated: "We need a large population and high density to progress. It is a social necessity to have children and to rear them well. By getting more babies and saving them, as well as lots of immigration, we can reach the 50 million we need." [footnote: 19/9/35 no. 90, pp. 4,7. Turkey reached 50 million in 1985 with such a high momentum of growth, despite the advent of controlled fertility, that 100 million could be forecast by the mid-twenty-first century. See my article "The Crisis of Population Knowledge," in New Perspectives on Turkey, no. 12 (Spring 1995), pp. 1-31.] Writer Ismail Hakki Baltacioglu was expanding the reasons for more population beyond that of national security, and he was outlining the demographic means of heightened fertility, lowered mortality, and immigration. Each will receive extended attention in this paper.

Along with almost every policy the Kemalists introduced, there was the question of whether the state could proclaim goals and expect the population to fall in line and do its bidding. Here we have the same question. The state and the aydinlar were asking for accelerated population growth for national purposes that would not necessarily be the same as families' goals. In most cases, however, ordinary citizens also wanted more offspring -- to help with agriculture and to strengthen their own, usually extended, families. It seems that the state at one level and families at another had common goals, although they were articulated differently.

A viable and better balanced population was just beginning to emerge in the 1930s. It was a resource that helped the nation as well as its families cope with economic hardships. Peace was also essential, since that meant more predictable and stable conditions in both the society and the economy. It also enabled young and middle-aged men and women to establish their families and to work in the fields and factories. "Hard Times" did indeed occur, but that they were softened by Turkey's predominantly agricultural structure and increasingly robust population. Families continued the demographic recovery throughout the 1930s.

At the end of the 1930s, however, Turkey was not yet sufficiently populated by working age males to shoulder the next international shock to hit the country -- World War II. The state's policy was full mobilization from the onset until the end of the war. Just when the hardest times of the depression had passed, the war years brought more hard times to the civilian society. The rural population, dependent upon labor-intensive agriculture, suffered most losing its workforce to the army. In 1940, the census counted a rural population of nearly 15 million -- 82 percent of the nation. This was a reversal of the distribution of hardships during the Great Depression. Then, the economic impact was mainly on the urban population because industrialization was delayed, while the rural population was able to maintain its labor-intensive agricultural momentum, albeit at lower-valued (financial) returns.

Even so, peace prevailed in Turkey, both during the Great Depression and the World War II years, so that the demographic recovery of the adult (particularly male) labor force could continue. That labor force became a most valuable asset that could support the highly productive decade of the1950s.

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Scars and Imbalances

When the 1935 census counted over 16 million people, jubilation followed. The goal of increasing the population as quickly as possible seemed to be uppermost, and this census confirmed a growth rate of 2.1 percent per annum since the 1927 count. Yet Turkey was still a long way from having a population adequately balanced by gender, age composition, and marital relationships within families, signified by proportions widowed, unmarried, and married. Individual families probably were aware of imbalances, such as too many dependents and not enough males to plow and enlarge the fields. Widowhood was a serious matter, amounting to 23 percent of adult women (age 20 and over) in 1935. In 1927, it had been as high as 30 percent in the western provinces through which the armies of both sides had marched during the Greek expulsion. [footnote: McCarthy (1983, p.120) includes a map of the proportions of women widowed in the western provinces, which shows this dramatically.] Concerning details of these demographic problems, we have found little analysis written at the time, although this does not mean that there was no awareness or understanding of them. The famous economic historian and demographer Ömer Celal Sarç undoubtedly was following the situation, but academic publication only came later (1940; 1942). Another belated analytical publication was written by the second-in-command of the state statistical office (Yüceulug 1944).

A small chapter on demographic historiography can provide us with a backward look at the scars and imbalances that prevailed from the 1920s through the 1930s and later. In the 1980s, I had the chance to construct a virtual population pyramid for 1923 (Shorter 1985). Although no census had been taken, it was possible to extrapolate figures by reverse projection from the 1935 census. 1935 was preferable to the 1927 one as a basis because of better quality and the use of standard age groups in the census reports. The 1923 pyramid refers to the "permanent" republican population. It excludes people who emigrated under various bilateral agreements or voluntarily, and it includes new recruits to the population via immigration up to 1935. The reconstructed 1923 pyramid (shaded) is shown inside the 1935 census pyramid in Figure 1. [footnote: A technical point about age structures in the Turkish censuses: Due to a systematic pattern of age misreporting in all Turkish censuses (albeit becoming more accurate over time), the 1935 census data and all the subsequent census data used in this paper were adjusted to eliminate these errors using the techniques described in Demeny and Shorter (1968). The earliest 1927 census had especially poor age reporting, so much so that wide-band, non-standard age groups were used in the official census reports. In order to recover the usefulness of the 1927 census, we used a method of reverse projection from 1935 to rearrange the 1927 results by standard five-year age groups, including approximate corrections for age-misstatement errors.]

Figure 1
Population by Age and Gender (in thousands)

Comparison of figures for males and females in the 1923 pyramid shows the serious shortages of males. The overall sex ratio, expressed as the number of males per hundred females, was 91 in 1923 rising to 97 in 1935 -- but still not the 100 or so that we expect. There were major deficiencies in the working-age population -- those most subject to wartime losses -- where the sex ratio for the population 20-54 was only 82 in 1923, rising to 95 by 1935. High infant and child mortality and temporarily reduced fertility prior to 1923 had taken a toll, as shown by the shrunken pyramid for the lowest ages in 1923. The scars on the pyramid show that at least 2.14 million Turks were lost by exceptional death and disease prior to the founding of the republic (Shorter 1985, p.425). The 1923 republican population of 13 million, as defined above, compares with a 1913 Ottoman population of 16 million in all millets in the same territory (Behar 1996, p.65), a net population loss of three million (rounded numbers).

During the 12 years from 1923 to 1935, people on the lower slabs of the 1923 pyramid moved up to higher ages in 1935. Note the great gains by 1935 in the number of children between birth and about age 15 (actually 12). This was accomplished by an increase in fertility rates and better control over child mortality. Population in the working ages began to increase. These working-age individuals in 1935 were persons of younger ages in the 1923 pyramid who had reached adulthood. Every slab in the 1935 pyramid was a slab almost three steps lower (more precisely, 12 years not 15 years) in 1923, except that in 1935 the lowest three slabs consisted of individuals not yet born in 1923.

Since every population is the sum of all its constituent households, small and large, families experienced the same sorts of transitions seen in the two pyramids. Younger members grew older and reconfiguration of families occurred within marriage, aging, divorce, and death. New members were added by births and whole families became neighbors by immigration. With a little imagination, one can appreciate that families in Turkey experienced imbalances at the micro level similar to those shown at the aggregate level. Variation at the family level, of course, could be much greater than shown by the aggregated numbers, which average over variation.

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Recovery and Balance over Time

Having gained some understanding of how the Turkish population was growing over time, leading into and during the Great Depression, we can construct some additional statistical indicators of the recovery.

Table 1. Population Structure by Age and Gender
and Indicators of Balance Across Time
(Population figures are in thousands)

Items 1923 1927 1935 1940 1945 1950
Population size 13219 13648 16158 17821 18790 20947
  Males 6296 6549 7937 8900 9446 10528
  Females 6923 7099 8221 8922 9344 10420
  Sex ratio 91 92 97 100 101 101
Potential labor force defined as individuals aged 20-54
  Males 2507 2774 3419 3615 4003 4512
  Females 3076 3223 3588 3683 3861 4333
  Sex ratio 82 86 95 98 104 104
Rate of increase (percent) *
  Population   1.24 2.04 1.73 1.06 2.17
  Male labor force   2.77 2.40 0.88 2.04 2.39
  Female labor force   1.49 1.02 0.29 0.94 2.31
Youthfulness of the labor force. Index=(20-34)/(35-54)
  Males 1.53 1.71 1.58 1.16 1.11 1.08
  Females 1.17 1.20 1.17 1.01 1.01 1.07
Persons carrying responsibility for the aged (60+). Index=(20-54)/(60+) 4.9 5.6 7.1 7.1 7.4 7.7
Males eligible for military service, 6-yr span (18-23) 836 848 838 693 1058 1313
Items 1923 1927 1935 1940 1945 1950
* The yearly rates of increase refer to the year specified. They are calculated by smooth interpolation curves across time.

Starting with the imagined pyramid in 1923, Table 1 includes statistics for every census date up to 1950. One must become accustomed to thinking of processes that create large changes, which, however, take time. The demography changes even though it seems to be a static parameter when attention is directed only to a single date or a short period. By carrying the indicators up to 1950, we see the movement through time. Turkey was heading toward a restructured and balanced population that would be fully achieved only many decades later.

The single most positive contribution of changes in the population to economic survival and to gains in economic production during the Great Depression, was the way in which the labor force grew. Its growth was not a simple reflection of overall growth in the population; rather it was shaped by the way in which aging and change of the pyramid occurred.

First, the labor force became more balanced by gender, rising rapidly from a low sex ratio of 82 in 1923 to 98 by the end of the 1930s. Second, it was a youthful labor force, because the increases came as younger individuals matured into the labor-force ages year by year. (See index for youthfulness.) Third, the yearly percentage rate of increase in the labor force (workers) was higher during the Great Depression than that of the population as a whole (consumers). The critical male labor force rolled forward at 2.4 percent per year during the 1930s (see statistic for 1935). Scars in the slabs of the 1935 pyramid brought this high rate of increase to an end by 1940, but the 1930s had already benefited. The high performance of agriculture during the Great Depression was in large measure a direct consequence of the labor-force trends. [footnote: See papers by Akçetin and Özel in this issue of New Perspectives on Turkey, and the economic arguments set out by Shorter (1985, p. 426-429) and Pamuk (1999, p. 22-24).]

The improving quality of the labor force contributed female labor to certain professions -- for instance, half the teachers in Istanbul were women -- and to factory work, which was now socially acceptable for women. Yet, Turkey was still a poor country. Educational opportunities for women and enrollment rates were high only in Istanbul -- another example of persistent progress, but it would take time.

Citizens and workers resisted moving to cities, even though such relocation would be needed for industrialization. Urban population stalled at 17 percent in 1935 and 18 percent in 1940, and did not increase until the 1950s, when urbanization and industrialization began in earnest. The state's plans for industrialization were not effective during the Great Depression, so people made the reasonable choice to remain in small towns and rural areas. Even the great magnet, Istanbul, grew only at about the same rate as the country as a whole (see Table 2). To be sure, Istanbul received some immigrants -- from the provinces as well as from abroad -- as it has always done. Rates of reproduction, however, were so low (fertility minus mortality up to the age of reproduction), that the city could only sustain itself and grow along with the rest of the country by means of immigration. [footnote: Forty-four percent of the population of the city of Istanbul in 1935 were migrants from elsewhere. In the twentieth century, Istanbul's native-born population has made little or no contribution to its growth due to its near or below-replacement levels of reproduction.]

Table 2. Istanbul's Population (in thousands)

Year City Country Istanbul as a proportion of Turkey (%)
1927 691 13,648 5.1
1935 741 16,158 4.6
1940 794 17,821 4.5
1945 861 18,790 4.6
1950 983 20,935 4.7
skip 40 years
1990 6,620 56,473 11.7

Another burden during the depression was the great number of widows, a carryover from the wartime losses of men. The number of adult men without women was negligible. Adequate numbers of men normally would be available to remarry and remove women below a certain age from the category of widows, but not in the 1930s. Widows were everywhere; in Istanbul there were more than 65,000 alongside an almost negligible number of eligible (unmarried) men over the age of about 30. Widowhood usually implied some form of dependence on extended families or poverty or both, even if they could work, such as in agriculture. The 1935 census was the first to list widows by age, showing that the problem affected all ages, but it was worse among older women as might be expected. The scale of the problem for women and those families that had survived the depression years is shown in Table 3. The proportions of widows among women of their own age group declined over time (compare 1935 to 1960). Widows aged out of their 1935 age groups and eventually piled up in the higher age groups until they would be removed from the population by death, much farther in the future. The main point is to note how this serious problem of the 1930s (indeed ever since 1923) could only decline and disappear with the passage of time.

Table 3. Widows, in 1935 and 1960

  Numbers of widows As percent of age group
Age group 1935 1960 1935 1960
20-24 9,877 5,326 1.5 0.5
25-29 19,719 10,010 2.7 0.9
30-34 31,694 20,795 4.9 2.1
35-39 45,210 25,390 8.6 3.7
40-44 96,160 43,552 18.6 8.0
45-49 98,211 58,351 31.1 11.7
50-54 179,478 120,432 46.6 22.1
55-59 104,228 102,307 53.4 27.7
60-64 197,751 213,822 66.5 46.4
65+ 268,220 397,548 76.7 67.3
All ages 20+ 1,047,583 997,533 23.0 14.2

This concludes our look at scars, imbalances, and their gradual removal over time, with emphasis on the time-intensity of the process.

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Producing More Babies

Ismail Hakki Baltacioglu was one of those who articulated the strategy for increasing the population -- that is, getting more babies, saving them, and lots of immigration. Today we tag the first as pro-natalism. The pro-natalist policy was given effect in a series of laws:

The Penal Code of 1926, adapted from the Italian code, made abortion illegal. The Law of Public Health of 1930 exhorted the government to increase births and prevent deaths. It also prohibited the importation, production, and sale of contraceptives. Only the condom was exempted from these restrictions, because it was considered to be a prophylactic against venereal disease. In 1936, an amendment to the Penal Code prohibited sterilization -- which was interpreted as meaning that no information could be disseminated concerning birth-control methods. Thus, family-planning education was forbidden, affecting medical education as well as the country's citizens. There was even an attempt to reward families by giving medals to mothers who had more than six children, and reducing some minor taxes according to the number of children. [footnote: This information comes from a study made in 1968-69 by a graduate class at Hacettepe University, and from Türkay (1964), whom they also consulted. Some details, particularly those relating to the implementation of the tax breaks, which were believed by oral informants to have been ineffective, unfortunately are missing.] The message from the state was clear. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether women, in collusion with their husbands, had any other choice but the path of pro-natalism, given the institutions of social control that demanded motherhood of every woman.

A lively debate ensued among physicians, government statisticians, and activists, assessing whether rapid growth by "producing more babies" was succeeding. For example, an article in Gürbuz Türk Çocugu showed a sophisticated understanding. [footnote: 1935. Nüfus artisi ve tedbirler (Population Increase and Policies), unsigned. No. 108, pp. 17-18] We quote in free translation and make comments from the perspective of our own demographic historiography. The author used birth and death registration data, explaining that much of the data were incomplete in varying degrees. He accepted the data for Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir as relatively complete as well as data from the malaria-control provinces, where he felt that close monitoring by the authorities was producing reasonably good information. After fussing around with the statistics, not showing how exactly he made his final estimates, he reached the following national rates for births, deaths, and natural increase. We compare them with rates calculated much later by new demographic techniques that skip over the defective registration data.

Table 4. Vital Rates per Thousand People

Crude birth rate 40 Which was probably more like 54
Crude death rate 19 Which was probably more like 34
Natural increase 21   20

Using the statistics that he could put his hands on, the author estimated the rate of natural increase at 21 per thousand per year. He reached his conclusion and published before the 1935 census was conducted. Fortuitously, the census then agreed by giving 21 as the rate of population increase between 1927 and 1935, albeit including migration. We can ask, then: Did it matter that the birth and death rates were seriously underestimated? I don't think so, since the data were enough to point to what were perceived to be "high" birth and death rates. He was also able to identify a rural/urban differential (lower rates in urban areas than rural ones) by noting that there were low (registered) birth rates in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.

He then drew policy conclusions. Don't bother about exhorting rural people to have more babies. He suspected some birth control in a few provinces (bad data or true?), but not enough to alter his conclusions. Had he known that the birth rate was actually more like 54, that would only have confirmed more strongly that fertility was indeed uncontrolled. City people were different, although they were only a small part of the whole population. He said that they needed to be persuaded to desist from deliberate (calculated) birth control. This was the message from a dedicated activist, but it fell on deaf ears in his home-town, Istanbul.

In Istanbul, contraception and abortion were widely practiced despite the ban and the admonitions. The total fertility rate of Istanbul had been falling and continued to fall (Duben and Behar 1991). "All, or most, of the signs of a child-oriented society were present by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Istanbul. To begin with, the economic utility of children was no doubt lower than it had been in the past, this being the result of changes in economic structure of the city beginning during the early Tanzimat years. ... There was a great concern for child health and survival during the period [which made an increase in births less necessary] (pp. 232-33)." This continued in republican Istanbul through the 1930s.

Dr. Zeki Nasir had the right solution when he wrote in 1933, "Our approach should be to make fewer births, using birth control, and then make more of them live. Except for the orthodox Christian nations, all accept this as the way." [footnote: "Nüfus Isinin Tetkiki," Ülkü, June 1933, pp. 414-16. Free translation.] This suited contemporary Istanbul and could be extended to the whole of Turkey, though he did not explicitly propose such an extension. That would have been courageous, as it would have flown in the face of nationalist pro-natalism. He discussed questions of public health, saying, "We have particular problems with malaria -- it eventually kills and it lowers fertility as couples lose interest. There is also a positive correlation between malaria control and reductions in child mortality. TB and syphilis have to be reduced. Wealth also helps populations to increase." He represented a more modernist position than the state's policy of trying to block all access to birth control. Tackling issues of health was no doubt the best way to mobilize consensus and to raise the level of reproduction (births net of child and young adult mortality) in the bargain.

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Saving Lives

The overwhelming disorganization, poverty, and poor condition of institutions in the early years of the republic made it impossible to achieve immediately whatever goals were set for public health and medical practice. During the 1930s, life remained precarious at its beginning, and health was generally poor among older citizens as well. The best retrospective general indicators, constructed by demographers long after the period itself, were the child mortality rate (proportion dying between birth and age five) and life expectancy at birth. Measurements were made of a child mortality rate of 27 percent of births, and an average life expectancy of 35 years (1935-1940). For those who lived to the age of five, the average expectation of remaining life was 50 years. Still, these statistics indicate a low quality of life as we would define it today (SIS 1995, pp.37-43, referencing all the relevant studies). [footnote: One more mortality study, not mentioned by SIS, showed expectations of life at birth about five years higher (Bulutoglu [Irmak], 1970), based on census and vital registration data. Although valuable as the earliest life-table for the national population, it has been superceded by later studies using more advanced demographic techniques that detected higher death rates.]

Even so, much was accomplished during the 1930s to generate a momentum toward better health. Physicians who took the broad view began to outline the nature of the country's disease problems and saw to it that medical education prepared men and women to tackle them. Some of them also established new institutions to provide health care and promote better health practices.

In an organized fashion, the state provided support for combating such debilitating, and eventually killer, diseases as malaria and tuberculosis. The state's most important contribution was to carry out a campaign against malaria by the methods known at the time -- chiefly, control of mosquito reproduction by petroleum spraying of their hatching waters. Statistics on registered deaths (even though undercounts) and cause of death, were studied and reported to make claims that the malaria campaign was making progress in the rural areas where it was conducted. Large swatches of land along the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts became habitable year-round. Thereafter, high-value agricultural crops, such as cotton and citrus, which required residence during the mosquito season, became viable in these "recovered" areas.

The health of children was seen as crucial to the future of the nation (Neyzi 1999). During the 1930s, several physicians conducted small surveys and kept track of patients, measuring their nutritional status by anthropometry. In children, the combined effects of infectious diseases -- which inhibit nutrient absorption and growth, as well as other growth factors -- are captured by anthropometric studies. Revisiting these studies in 1995, pediatricians Olcay Neyzi and Nurçin Saka (1995) looked at all the 1930s data and concluded:

The results [of the early studies were] presented only as mean values, [and thus] fail to provide information on within group variation and do not allow statistical comparisons [of distributions]. The majority of the studies are limited to children living in cities. With all these limitations, the data still indicate that a significant positive secular trend has occurred over the past fifty years [from late 1930s] in the growth of Turkish children, reflecting the improvement in the standard of living ... It is also of interest that the secular trend is not noticeable to a significant degree in children of the upper echelons of society."

Thus, Turkish children in the top urban groups had a high standard of health. Below them would be the mass of population whose status was not nearly so high. Indeed, even in Istanbul, child mortality was probably in excess of 200 per thousand births. Though an understanding of how to provide better health for children already existed at the top of the society, it could not be achieved easily and universally in the short run because of all the usual reasons of class and regional differences in economic conditions and medical service. Even in the 1990s, there was considerable diversity in nutritional status nationally in Turkey, with only a measured 81 percent of children under age five showing normal growth, while 19 percent were "stunted" (TDHS 1994, p. 113)

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A Surge in Immigration

The population on Republican soil increased considerably via immigration. The largest bloc comprised those who arrived under the terms of the 1923 Lausanne convention on the exchange of Greeks and Turks. Others entered under the terms of bilateral treaties for voluntary movement to Turkey from Bulgaria, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Altogether, about 700,000 individuals arrived between 1923 and 1939. Although this is a substantial number, it is equivalent to only about four percent of the 1935 population.

From Greece, 355,635 individuals entered Turkey and were registered between 1923 and 1926; another 47,000 came from Greece in the following years. From Bulgaria, 127,000 came between 1923 and 1935, continuing thereafter in smaller numbers. From Rumania, 50,000 were counted between 1925 and 1934, while a trickle continued thereafter. From Yugoslavia, 108,000 arrived between 1923 and 1933 (Geray 1962; Tekeli 1994). Prior to the establishment of the republic, many uncounted refugee movements occurred as Ottoman lands were ceded or occupied, but this pre-republican phase is not discussed here. Our focus is on the implementation in republican Turkey of a policy to welcome Turks from outside and thus to increase the size of the Turkish population.

Many of the immigrants brought skills, educational backgrounds, and experience that enhanced the productive potential of the republican population. Furthermore, they were almost all families composed of individuals diverse in age and gender. Individuals did not have to be born, reared, and aged into the productive years of life to build the workforce of the new republican population. After their arrival, immigrant families also contributed by their own reproduction. Demographically speaking, they fitted well into the resident national population, although they added to ethnic diversity -- a topic suppressed in those years. Immigration provided a shortcut to the creation of a reinvigorated population after the founding of the republic.

The state seized all land and real estate abandoned by people who fled, died, or were exchanged. The state used the agricultural lands and real estate in both the countryside and the cities in an attempt to resettle refugees in a fair manner. The implementation succeeded up to a point, but generally it fell short. Onur Yildirim tells us: " ... the refugees who were greeted at the ports with music and an air of official celebration soon found themselves at the mercy of the age-old local refugee bureaus. ... Although the government soon transformed these institutions into ... reconstruction and settlement commissions, the problems associated with [the former] institutions remained unchanged. ... The discontent among the refugees was sometimes turned into acts of violence directed to the person of the officials in the short run (the director of the reconstruction bureau in Izmir was shot by a refugee in 1924) ... " [footnote: The quote is from Yildirim's MESA conference paper (Washington, D.C., 1999) and is reproduced here as a personal communication. Also see Tekeli (1994) for a comprehensive account of the resettlement process as it was managed by the state, and for statistics generated by the bureaucracy. The experience from the refugees' point of view must be learned elsewhere.] To a great extent, those who had been burned out during the wars, or who had immigrated from lost Ottoman lands to resettlement areas in Turkey before and after the constitution of the republic, eventually were able in one way or another to acquire land and buildings to establish themselves.

Writers of the day presented their analyses showing that there was plenty of room for new immigrants. For example, one writer said, "The population of Thrace in 1915 (provinces of Edirne, Kirklareli, Tekirdag, and districts of Çanakkale in Gelibolu, Eceabat, Çatalca, and Silivri) was 652,636 ... with a density of 28.5 per km2 ... In 1933 this was down to 614,382 at 26.8 per km2. ... These densities are much lower than in Balkan countries." Continuing, the unnamed author discussed new housing already provided in Thrace and more to be built over the next five years for more immigrants, saying that resettlement of another 640,000 population would be needed (GTÇ 1935, no. 108, p. 1923). While not all these plans were realized, and the backlog of unsettled immigrants grew, the new state's plans showed desire for increased population.

Immigrants became members of all classes of the working population. Most of them were settled, or settled themselves, in agricultural areas that had been vacated, although some established themselves in urban places. When the Great Depression struck from outside, these people had already built a foundation of human and material resources with which they (and the rest of the population) could face the economic crisis.

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Demographic Reverses at the End of the 1930s

Reacting to World War II and the perils it posed for Turkey, the state's actions, not wartime casualties, massively eliminated males from the labor force. Earlier, in the 1920s, demobilization had given human resources back to families for reproduction and commodity production. The standing peacetime army was reduced to 127,000 men. [footnote: According to the 1927 census. Subsequent censuses do not show the size of the army. Instead, soldiers are listed with their former or usual civilian occupations.] Much of this advantage was lost when the state mobilized fully for possible war. We don't know precisely how many men were conscripted and kept in the army until the emergency had passed by the end of 1945. Zürcher says 1.5 million (1993, p.207) and Pamuk says more than a million (1999, p.24); neither provides a source. The demographic availability of manpower at the time indicates that an even lower figure would be nearer the mark. In the age range of 18 to 23, the prime ages for military service, there were too few men to assemble a million-man army (see last line of Table 1). Past scars on the age structure depressed the available numbers for military service right up to 1945. To conscript a large force nevertheless, the army probably took older men as well. Such unrelenting, near-total, conscription could only stop the agricultural expansion in its tracks, which it did, and the military commandeering of commodities, including both food and manufactures, left little for ordinary families. [footnote: During this period, Cumhuriyet carried frequent reports of campaigns to raise voluntary donations of blankets, clothing, and other items for the army.] Shortages of internationally traded imports also compounded the crisis. All of this is described as "economic contraction," in Pamuk's crisp and excellent account of the economic collapse (pp. 24-26).

The expectation of life at birth (e0) fell from its previous level of 35.4 years (1935-1940) to 31.4 years (1940-1945). As a consequence of the increased death rates during the war period, the population's growth rate fell from over 2.0 percent per year beforehand to 1.7 percent in 1940 and 1.1 percent by 1945. Only after World War II did the population growth rate and the life expectancy at birth resume their upward trend. Even in Istanbul, the most privileged corner of Turkey, the registered death rate rose by seven percent during the war. The wartime setback particularly affected children; the infant mortality rate rose nationally from 273 to 306 per thousand births, comparing 1935-1940 with 1940-1945 (Shorter and Macura 1982, p.95). The causes were the poor economic conditions, shortages of professional care and medicines, and deterioration in public health campaigns such as the one against malaria. [footnote: Deaths registered in the malaria control provinces, though no doubt incompletely recorded, rose in 1942 to a death rate of 23.2 per thousand population, having been as low as 13.8 per thousand in 1939.]

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Although demographic change as a rule is slow and continuous, it can be affected by important changes in economic conditions. The Great Depression was a shock to the economy that encouraged people to remain in rural areas where labor-intensive agriculture could provide a living. The urbanization that would have accompanied industrialization had to wait. Fertility continued to be high -- indeed, it increased, since it was not diminished by the cost of having and raising children (which generally declined) or any other economic logic. Quite the opposite. For rural people it was important to fill the lost cadres of manpower. The pace of increase in the labor force was swift, and this benefited all labor-intensive kinds of production, particularly in agriculture. Although accurate measurements of trends in child and adult mortality rates during the 1930s are not available, we find no indication retrospectively that mortality conditions worsened, even though their levels were generally poor. There were improvements in public health and child care.

Setbacks came only when Turkey mobilized for World War II which drained resources and isolated the country -- conditions that seem to have contributed to an increase in mortality rates. The rural population, dependent upon agriculture, lost its labor force to the army and suffered most. In 1940, the census counted a rural population of nearly 15 million people, equivalent to 82 percent of the national population. This was a reversal of the way hardships were distributed during the Great Depression. At that time, the economic impact was mainly on the urban population, and the industrialization of the country was delayed.

The policies and mindsets of the 1930s, nurtured since the 1920s, favored a simplistic one-variable pro-natalism -- births. This legacy carried forward until the 1960s, when rapid population growth finally created so many developmental problems and public health issues that a dramatic policy revision finally occurred. At the micro level of families, fertility control had already begun -- from early in the century in the cities and from as early as the 1940s in some rural regions. The congruence of micro practice with national policy no longer existed. When a new population-policy law concerning contraception, education, and some other related public health matters was finally enacted in 1965, it initiated a new perspective but was already late. By then a considerable momentum of population growth existed -- one that could not be turned back.

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