Syrian Refugees and Human Capital Accumulation of Working-age Native Children in Turkey

Selcen Çakır, Elif Erbay, and Murat Güray Kırdar

Journal of Human Capital, 2023 


This paper examines the effect of Syrian refugees on the school enrollment and employment of working-age native children in Turkey. The authors analyze the distributional effects of the refugee shock for children with various levels of parental education. 

The authors exploit the variation in the ratio of refugees to natives across regions in Turkey using a difference-in-difference approach. The analysis is based on data from two main sources: (1) individual data for working aged children (aged 15-17) from the Turkish Household Labor Force Survey (HFLS) published by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat); and (2) provincial numbers on the ratio of Syrian refugees to natives from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) and the Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Migration Management of Turkey.  

The data reveals that overall, in Turkey: 

  • Most working-age children (71 percent of boys and 63 percent of girls) are enrolled in school. 
  • 23 percent of working-age boys and 10 percent of working-age girls are employed, mostly in the informal sector. 
  • 7 percent of working-age boys (31 percent of employed boys) and 2.7 percent of working-age girls (26 percent of employed girls) combine work with school.  
  • A large fraction of working-age children is neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET): 14 percent of working-age boys and 29 percent of working-age girls. 
  • Most household heads (64 percent) have a primary or secondary school degree, 16 percent have no degrees, and 20 percent have a university degree. 

Main empirical results: 

  • The refugee shock reduced boys’ employment and increased their school enrolment. A 1 percentage-point increase in the migrant-native ratio reduced boys’ employment by 0.7 percentage points and increased their enrolment by 0.3 percentage points.  
  • The refugee shock reduced girls’ employment but did not have any effect on their school enrolment. A 1 percentage-point increase in the migrant-native ratio reduced girls’ employment by about 0.5 percentage points. 
  • The informal sector drives the effect on employment of both boys and girls. The employment effects are larger than those reported for adult natives in the informal sector, presumably because children are likely to be doing the simplest tasks that newly arrived refugees can easily learn. 
  • The positive refugee effect on boys’ enrolment is stronger for those with more-educated parents, consistent with the expectation that higher earnings in the formal sector for more-educated parents (resulting from the positive impact of refugees on employment and wages there) reduce the marginal utility of their children’s earnings and increase the demand for education as a consumption good. A 1 percentage-point increase in the migrant-native ratio lowers the informal employment rate by 3.6 percent for boys with less-educated household heads and by 10.2 percent for boys with more-educated household heads. 
  • Overall, the arrival of Syrian refugees does not affect the incidence of boys with NEET status (neither in employment nor in education or training) but reduces the incidence of boys with NEET status for households with more educated parents. The arrival of every ten refugees pushes three boys from work to school and four boys from combining school and work to school only, but it does not increase the incidence of boys with NEET status. However, the arrival of ten refugees eliminates the NEET status of three boys in households with more educated parents, pushing them into education. 
  • The arrival of refugees increases the incidence of girls with NEET status. For every ten incoming refugees, about three native girls do not combine school and work anymore and about three native girls are pushed into NEET status. The increase in girls with NEET status occurs in families with less-educated parents. 
  • The Turkish government increased investment in school infrastructure due to the refugee influx. A 10 percentage-point rise in the migrant-native ratio increased the number of schools by 12 percent. There isn’t any evidence of a change in the average class size or the student-teacher ratio due to the refugee influx. 

Overall, the Syrian refugee influx reduced the employment of working-age Turkish youth in the informal labor market. While both boys and girls are displaced in the informal labor market, there is only an increase in school enrollments for boys. For girls in less educated households, there is an increase in the incidence of NEET status. Consequently, the arrival of refugees has a more negative effect on the human capital accumulation of working-aged girls than boys, but particularly for girls from less privileged backgrounds. The authors recommend policy responses that minimize the adverse effects of forced migration on girls, particularly those with less-educated parents.