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Women’s empowerment in the period of the rapid expansion of higher education in Turkey: developments and paradoxes of gender equality in the labour market


Turkey has experienced an expansion in its higher education sector over the last 15 years, fuelled by the cancellation of tuition fees, the establishment of at least one public university in each city, an increase in the number of foundation universities, and the abolition of the headscarf ban. Within this period, women have overtaken men in terms of higher education attainment. In this paper, we study whether this development has gone alongside improved gender equality in the labour force. We analyse household labour force survey data for the years 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2017 to track the changes in core SDG5-indicators for gender equality: labour force participation, gender segregation in employment, and the gender pay gap. Overall, we find that women with higher education still enter the labour force at a significantly higher rate than women without higher education. While both the occupational gender segregation and the gender wage gap persist among graduates, these gaps remain relatively small when compared to other countries. Our analysis shows that higher education has contributed significantly to the development of a somewhat more equal labour market outcomes for the most recent cohort, despite the nuanced and entrenched gender inequalities that are difficult to change.

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  1. The expansion has not affected the admission process, which remains to be based on a centralized exam conducted by the government agency ÖSYM (Measuring, Selection and Placement Center) for all programmes—including all fields of studies and public as well as foundation universities. However, university enrolment became obviously less selective over time given the increasing numbers of admissions.

  2. Foundation universities are established by non-profit foundations with the suggestion of the Council of Higher Education (CoHE) and confirmation from the Parliament. Although they receive no direct funding from the government and charge tuition fees unlike public universities, they are not fully autonomous and are subject to similar regulations as public universities stipulated by CoHE.


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Correspondence to Felix Weiss.

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Cin, F.M., Gümüş, S. & Weiss, F. Women’s empowerment in the period of the rapid expansion of higher education in Turkey: developments and paradoxes of gender equality in the labour market. High Educ 81, 31–50 (2021).

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  • Gender inequality in the labour market
  • Gender pay gap
  • Turkey
  • Higher education expansion
  • Occupational gender segregation