The labor market integration of Syrian refugees in Turkey

Murat Demirci and Murat Güray Kırdar

World Development, Volume 162 (2023), Article 106138 


This paper examines the labor market integration of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Since 2018, Syrian refugees in Turkey have numbered more than 3.6 million. 

The analysis draws on data from the 2018 round of the Turkey Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS), which includes a representative sample of Syrian refugees in Turkey for the first time. Descriptive statistics reveal that: 

  • On average, refugees are younger and less educated than natives.  
  • Refugees are more likely to live in southern and southeastern provinces, where employment rates are low. 
  • Syrian refugees had spent an average of 3.8 years in Turkey. 
  • Employment rates are higher among natives (69 percent of men, 22 percent of women) compared to Syrian refugees (62 percent of men, 6 percent of women).  
  • Refugee men are more likely to be employed as wage workers (88 percent) compared to native men (73 percent).  
  • The proportion of male workers employed in manufacturing is higher among refugees, and the proportion employed in services is lower. Among female workers, the proportion employed in agriculture is higher and the proportion in the service sector is lower. 
  • Refugees are more likely to be employed informally (99 percent of married men, 98 percent of women) compared to natives (19 percent of married men, 38 percent of native women). 

 Main empirical results: 

  • Overall employment levels are not much lower for refugees than for natives. Gaps in labor market outcomes (employment, unemployment, and labor-force participation) between natives and Syrian refugees in Turkey narrow considerably (especially for women) once differences in demographic and educational characteristics of natives and refugees are accounted for. The remaining native-refugee gap in paid employment is small: 4.7 percentage points (pp) for men and 4.0 pp for women.  
  • Syrian refugees in Turkey lag natives in terms of employment quality. Gaps in job characteristics persist and display significant heterogeneity, even after differences in demographic and educational characteristics of natives and refugees are accounted for. Refugees are significantly less likely to be employed in most types and sectors of jobs, with the gap being smallest in wage employment, manufacturing for men, and agriculture for women; and larger gaps in self-employment and unpaid family work.  
  • Refugees are much more likely to work in the informal sector. Even after demographic and educational characteristics are accounted for, married refugee men are 58 pp less likely to be formally employed than married native men. 
  • There is considerable variation in the labor-market integration of Syrian refugee groups by age, education, mother tongue, and region of residence. While refugee employment is higher than native employment among young adults (as native youth are more likely to be in education), it is lower among working-aged people. For more educated refugees, particularly women, the employment gap is wider. Language has a significant effect on employment for men, but not for women. Refugee men do better in regions that provide many job opportunities in manufacturing, while refugee women are more likely to find work in regions with many agricultural jobs. 

Overall, the findings show a much smaller native–refugee gap in men’s employment in Turkey (favoring natives) than that reported for most developed countries. These small gaps conceal the fact that formal-employment rates are much lower among refugees. Although many refugees are successful in finding employment in Turkey, they work primarily in the informal sector, where wages are lower on average and job losses more likely.