As a recently-qualified lawyer, 25 year-old Helin Okçuoğlu should be looking forward to moving out of her parents’ home in Kadıköy, İstanbul, and starting life on her own – but she isn’t feeling optimistic.
“The reality facing our generation is that there comes a point when we have to minimise our hopes and expectations,” she told Inside Turkey.
Despite her law degree and French and English language skills, Okçuoğlu doesn’t expect to move out any time soon, due to what she described as a “lawyer boom” in Turkey. With more graduates than there are jobs, she said, “you have to acknowledge the fact that your salary will start around the minimum wage”.
In Turkey, even skilled professionals are struggling to find work: according to the Turkish Statistical Institute, the number of unemployed graduates rose to over one million in the last year. Even those lucky enough to find jobs are asking themselves whether they’ll be able to provide themselves with the kind of life they want – to own a home, for instance, or a car.
“Our generation has to worry about the economy much more than our parents did,” Okçuoğlu said, adding that she doubted she would be able to match the standard of living she enjoyed growing up, even if she works harder and finds a higher-paying job.
Okçuoğlu sees having a property as a safety net and wants to own her own house at one point in her life. But the current economy “doesn’t let this happen,” she continued.
From having tea at a café to buying cheese from the supermarket, “everything is becoming a luxury and this creates anxiety among us”.
According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, inflation rose to 11.9 per cent in October. Due to a combination of the pandemic and shrinking currency reserves, Turkey’s economy is struggling, but what Okçuoğlu describes is also a global issue. Millennials – people born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s – are sometimes described as the first generation with a lower standard of living than their parents. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made this any easier.
“I don’t feel hopeful for the future,” said Selin Özer, a 25 year-old financial consultant who works for an international firm based in İstanbul. “The pandemic really ruined the economy.”
Özer earns between 3,500 and 5,000 liras a month, a salary higher than that of many recent graduates. According to the Career and Talent Management Association, almost three-quarters receive starting salaries lower than 3,000 liras. Nonetheless, Özer still finds it difficult to manage her finances. She thinks twice before going out with friends, and recently had to borrow money from her parents to buy a new phone when her old one broke.
Özer, whose parents bought their home in Kadıköy when they were around her age, doesn’t think she’ll be able to afford a house for at least another ten years.
“I had a nice standard of education but I keep thinking, will I be able to provide the life my parents gave me to my children?” she said.
According to Atilla Yeşilada, an economist and co-founder of the Istanbul Analytics research agency, younger people have modified their ambitions. In the past, people defined owning a car and a house before turning 30 as the sign of a fulfilled life.
“I don’t think they care about it now,” he said. “Seeing the world, collecting experiences, being sensitive to events around the world is much more important to young people now.”
But although people’s aspirations have changed, Yeşilada thinks that the global economic turmoil caused by the pandemic will leave its mark on younger generations. School closures and remote learning will create gaps in young people’s education, which will make it more difficult for them to find jobs in the future.
Yeşilada thinks this will affect Turkey particularly badly because the disparity in incomes between university graduates and others has been shrinking in recent years.
“In a country where there is no production of high value, hi-tech products, there won’t be a need for graduates,” he continued. At the beginning of the pandemic, youth unemployment already stood at 24 per cent.
Like Okçuoğlu and Özer, 25 year-old Yavuz Yurtbaşı doesn’t think he’ll be able to buy a house any time soon. But for Yavuz, an Istanbul-based engineer, there are more important things in life.
“I want to explore, to invest in myself,” he said, explaining that he’d rather spend money on music than on paying off a mortgage.
If Yurtbaşı was going to spend money on anything expensive, he said he would rather buy a car than a house.
“In a city like Istanbul, using public transport takes at least two hours out of your day. Cars make life easier here,” he said. But car prices are also prohibitive.
In Turkey, new cars are subject to a Special Consumption Tax (SCT), based on the vehicle’s engine size and pre-tax price. For example, for vehicles of 1,600 cc and below, the lowest tax rate today is 45 per cent. Since the start of the pandemic, when people began to avoid public transport, prices for second-hand cars have jumped too.
A Fiat Egea – a relatively cheap model, sold in Europe under the name Fiat Tipo – sells second-hand in Turkey for between 100,000 and 150,000 liras. That’s more than five years’ salary for someone earning the minimum monthly wage of net 2,324 liras, and costly even for a higher earner like Yurtbaşı, who makes around 5,000 and 6,000 liras a month.
With the lira losing value, car prices are likely to rise further, according to Yeşilada. “The next generation will feel lucky if they can even afford a Fiat Egea,” he said.
“Everyone around me is consumed with the idea of earning money,” said Okçuoğlu. “It’s what we lack, and it’s the biggest concern of our generation in Turkey.”