The number of people living alone in Turkey is increasing rapidly. In 2006, 6.1% of all households comprised people living alone. In 2020, this percentage reached 17.9. This significant increase inevitably brings up various questions including the consequences of this transformation in social life for women.
In patriarchal societies where alternative lifestyles are not socially, financially, or politically encouraged, the majority of households comprises families. The conception of household in traditional economic thought mainly corresponds to a social unit whose consumption decisions are made together. Etymological roots of economy, oikos meaning household and nomos meaning get by in Greek, seem to attest to that. We should not forget that household structure in ancient Greece was also the structuring of property. This structuring involved division of labor, production and consumption among not only biologically linked people but also individuals dependent on it through the bond of slavery. With time, the relation between production and the house transformed alongside the transformation of social relations. The house kept its function as a unit of social reproduction, while it also started to become a consumption space for capitalism.
In this article, I will focus on the kinds of transformation recently observed in the households in Turkey based on Turkish Statistical Institute (TURKSTAT) data, and their interpretations considering the patriarchal system.
As of 2020, a total of 24 million 604 thousand households in Turkey, approximately 80% of all households, comprise families. Only 5 years ago, it was around 83%. In a period where the emphasis on the sacredness of family has significantly grown in all sectors of society in Turkey, this data reveals that there is a dissolution in the most accepted unit of society, family structures. Another factor that strengthens this observation is that the number of people living alone is increasing rapidly in Turkey. The earliest data on this subject is from 2006, which shows that 6.1% of all households comprised people living alone. In 2020, this percentage reached 17.9. This significant increase inevitably brings up various questions. Does the new generation of women or men prefer living alone more than their predecessors? Are there more young people who prefer to move out of their parents’ homes and live on their own? Or are there increasingly more men or women who decide to build their own lives after their divorce? To answer these questions, we must look at the gender and age distribution of people living on their own. TURKSTAT possesses this data, but it is not accessible from their website. With the help of the observations of a researcher, who used this micro set of data from 2016, we see that 60% of people living alone are women, whereas 40% of them are men.  Stop before you get excited because you think women are now in control of their own lives. It’s mostly men who (get to) live on their own, based on their personal choices. This fact is revealed by looking at the age distribution of women and men living on their own. While men living alone are mostly concentrated around the age of 30, women are more likely to live alone around 70. When we look at the marital status of those who live alone, the picture becomes clearer. Almost 70% of the women living alone report the death of a spouse. For men, this rate is at 23%. 30% of men and 13% of women living alone are divorced. Compared to 40% of men, only 15% of women are single. That means women did not or could not choose to live on their own. It would have been surprising to see it otherwise in a country with such low women employment rates, where women succumb to work informally in precarious conditions.
Another important observation concerns single parent households. There is a significant rise in the number of single parent households in the past years. Single parent households in 2006 made up 7.2% of all households, whereas in 2020, this percentage rose to 9.6. The composition of these households, whether it is led by a mother or a father, is a concrete indication of the fact that we live in a patriarchal society. The percentage of households composed of mother and child/ren in 2020 is 7.5%, whereas father and child/ren households are at 2.1%. These numbers reveal who is granted the custody of the child and carries the responsibility of care following a divorce. Again, TURKSTAT data shows that custody of children following a divorce case is mostly granted to their mothers. 75.8% of the time the custodianship of children was granted to their mothers in 2020. Perhaps, even when fathers are granted custody, they end up finding a new “mother”, who would take care of his children (and himself) and get married to them. On the other hand, women, either do not choose to get married or, when they do, run into barriers created by the male dominated society.
Adopting non-family alternative cohabitation styles prove difficult when there is so much reference to the sacredness of family. In Turkey, the percentage of households composed of people who are not linked via family bonds remain limited to 2.8.
As a result, it is inevitable that the transformations in the household structure will prove to the detriment of women and end up strengthening the patriarchal structure in a society where women are not compensated for their production, conditions of the labor market deteriorate each day, the child and elderly care that fall on women’s shoulders intensifies, and conservative policies gain traction.
 For the complete study, see: Başlevent, L. (2020) Türkiye’nin Değişen Hanehalkı Yapısı: Tek Kişilik Haneler Ne Durumda? [The Transforming Household Structure of Turkey] Yıldız Social Science Review vol. 6 no. 1, p. 17-31.
Translator: Deniz İnal
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan