Turks too poor to marry under economic slowdown

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week lamented that fewer young Turks were getting married, hundreds took to social media to condemn what many viewed as a gratuitous intervention into their private lives.

The president said some circles were encouraging young people to live a life without marriage, but many criticised the president for simplifying a complex social issue. Among those Ahval spoke to were people who were unable to marry their long-term partners for financial reasons, who married young and later came to regret the decision, and some who were afraid of taking the step of getting married and having children. 

But a common idea shared by all of our respondents, including doctors, civil servants and private sector workers, was that in the current economic climate, in which millions are unemployed and everyone in work fears losing their job, marriage is the last thing on people’s minds.

Thirty-year-old Recai Şahutoğlu and his girlfriend of nine years have long wanted to marry, but their financial situation has prevented them. Turkey’s economy has been on the brink in recent years, particularly since a currency crisis knocked nearly 30 percent off the lira’s value against the dollar in 2018, and Şahutoğlu lost jobs at two high-profile private firms before setting up a fishmonger’s shop with help from his family. He plans to get married, but only after paying off the debt he incurred setting up his business.

“When someone’s struggling to get by on minimum wage, how are they supposed to support a family? Especially since it isn’t clear whether you’ll even be able to keep earning that money. You may be working one year, but the next you lose the job because of the crisis,” Şahutoğlu said.

“If you’re single, it’s only you who has that problem. But if you’re married, you need a stable, regular job that pays above minimum wage for you to make ends meet,” he said.

The cost of daily living pales in comparison to the amount of money required to throw a wedding, Şahutoğlu said, with even an average ceremony often costing more than 100,000 liras ($17,000), an amount that is far out of reach for someone earning the minimum wage of roughly 2,000 ($340) per month.

For 30-year-old Dilek Öztürk, it is not the cost of the wedding that is prohibitive, but the difficulty of finding a suitable partner.

“I actually place more importance on marriage than Erdoğan does,” she said. “It’s important to find the right person. There are so many people who made mistakes marrying around us, and those of us who are taking care not to make the same mistakes have not been left on the shelf like he says.”

While finding a partner who treats her respectfully is Öztürk’s priority, her brother’s experience shows how economic concerns can stop even qualified and working professionals from tying the knot.

“He’s one of thousands of qualified teachers who are waiting for the government to appoint them to a position. He’s been waiting for years, and for the past year he’s been working at a private company,” Öztürk said.

“He wants to get married, but he’s dreadfully anxious about the finances. When civil servants, academics and doctors’ positions aren’t guaranteed, what’s someone at a private company going to do? Especially when they’re working for minimum wage that doesn’t even cover their own expenses.”

Metin Korkmaz, a graduate in tourism from Turkey’s southeastern province of Hatay, had to forego the wedding celebrations when he got married more than a year ago, but still had to fork out nearly 40,000 liras ($6,800) to kit out his new family’s home with the essentials. 

Korkmaz has been unable to find a job in his field due to the war across the border in Syria, instead working in a succession of short-term, low wage jobs. 

“I couldn’t even buy my wife gold for our wedding. Now both of us work, and it’s hard making it to the end of each month. We would like to have a child, but when we’re struggling to make do ourselves, we can’t,” he said.

Regardless of one’s finances, 30-year-old divorcee Poyraz Güler believes people should think twice about marriage, which he believes is being imposed on young people regardless of the suitability of their partners.

“Women want to get married so they can live away from their family home and have a lavish wedding, men want to have food ready for them, the house clean and their laundry done when they get home from work, and that’s the shape the institution of marriage has taken,” he said. “From this angle how moral can a bond that’s made with a signature and without any love really be?” 

Marriages which are arranged or imposed by families are another common feature in Turkish life that can be profoundly harmful, said 41-year-old mother of two Songül Şahin, who was forced to marry at the age of 21.

“I’m sorry my family made me get married at such a young age, but what good does it do? My husband didn’t take any responsibility, and for years I was working at a hospital. I’ve had both financial and psychological problems,” she said.

“He cheated on me many times. I don’t remember any time we went out together, our personalities didn’t match. I won’t let my daughter get married until she’s finished being educated and found herself a career,” she said.

© Ahval English