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Redundant After 65: The Hidden Effects of COVID-19 on Intergenerational Solidarity in Turkey

After triggering the biggest global economic turmoil since 2008, COVID-19 has left many people without jobs or a stable income. Precarious jobs were first to disappear, and since older people (65+) in Turkey are quite likely to take up precarious and illicit jobs, they have been hit hard by the pandemic. Seen as economically inactive, older people’s working lives have never been much of a point of discussion – in Turkey, I mean. And yet, older people were at the centre of discrimination in employment throughout the pandemic. 

With the emergence of the first COVID-19 case in Turkey, physical and social isolation practices were quickly put in place followed by curfews and restrictions for older people. 65+ people were told to stay at home from March 2020 to June 2020, and since then similar restrictions have occasionally been put in place in response to the ebb and flow of the pandemic. It’s quite possible that these restrictions have contributed to job loss among older workers since they were not able to go to work during the hours of the curfew According to the Turkish Statistical Institute’s latest data, labour force participation among older people (65) is 12% (almost a million people), with 28.1 % of them working in service industries that are particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

The results of our own recent research study in Turkey show that job loss among older adults is a significant issue. It results not only in financial problems, but also undermines intergenerational solidarity. We have attempted to identify age differences in the employment impact of the pandemic and their effect on intergenerational solidarity in a nationally representative quantitative study (n=1070) conducted via Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI) in 12 Turkish provinces.  

In our sample, although employment rates fell sharply for people of ages with the onset of the pandemic, the change was much more dramatic for adults aged 65+ than for younger adults (18-64).  The percentage of older people in employment fell from 42% to 15%, while for younger people employment rates decreased from 52% to 38%.  It was also observed that the rates of dismissal, use of unpaid leave and temporarily closure of workplaces/businesses among the 65+ were higher than among younger adults (See table below).

Post Pandemic Employment by age

18-64 (%)

65+ (%)

Full-time Employed






Temporary liquidation



Paid leave



Unpaid leave







Unsurprisingly our results also showed that job loss for older people was associated with changes in the perceived adequacy of income.  The percentage of older people who stated they were “having difficulty in making ends meet” or “having a lot of difficulty in making ends meet” increased from 20% before the pandemic to 33% with the emergence of COVID-19. By the same token, the percentage of older people who could make ends meet easily/very easily has decreased from 43% to 24.6 %.  The change seen in the middle ground was smaller: the percentage of older people who stated they were “being careful with their purchases” has increased from 36.9% to 42.2%.

The fall in income has led to disruptions in intergenerational financial transfers. The frequency and amount of money transfers to adult children from parents have decreased, as have those from adult children to parents - to such an extent that in some cases the transfers have been stopped altogether. This situation is not only a threat to the financial position of household, but also (by definition) undermines family solidarity in its functional aspect. Since both generations were challenged by the economic turmoil, in-vivo family transfers have decreased in both directions, upwards from adult children to older parents, and downwards from older parents to adult children. 

Financial problems are not the only adverse consequences from redundancy; psychological and social repercussions were also seen in the study. Financial problems – a sense of the inadequacy of income to make ends meet – have an impact on mental health.  And in our study too older people who had difficulty in making ends meet were more likely to report lower levels of mental health and life satisfaction. If we think of positive mental health as an “opportunity structure” for intergenerational solidarity, we found not only that it has dramatically deteriorated for all participants of all ages, but also that this change was associated with a loss of affectual and associational solidarity, both of which have decreased with the emergence of the pandemic. In other words, the socio-psychological impact of the pandemic on older people has to take account of the way that job loss hits mental health – which has a knock-on effect on intergenerational solidarity – as well as the widely reported consequences of social isolation and general anxiety about infection with COVID-19.

In response to rising rates of unemployment, the Turkish government has introduced short-term unemployment benefits.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t helped the relatively high proportion of older people who were working in the black economy. Older people therefore have had higher rates of job loss than younger people, and on top of this they have high rates of ineligibility for unemployment benefits.  Many older workers in Turkey were not able to claim unemployment/job loss benefits since they were not registered in the system. The reason for the absence of proper registration can be explained by the nexus of insufficient pensions and the cost of premiums for second careers. In fact, the majority of the research participants who continued to work after retirement hid this information from the researchers, i.e. they did not want us to know that they were not registered.  This was something that the research team were able to deduce from the dataset in the absence of an explicit ‘admission’ of being in paid employment.   In other words, in order to uncover the hidden problem of redundancy, we first had to uncover the hidden workers. 

It seems, moreover, that the prospects of older people returning to work quickly after redundancy are lower compared to their younger counterparts. This at least is what the US data suggest.  According to the latest AARP report,  for April 2021, the average duration of unemployment was 30.6 weeks for those aged 45 to 54; 35.8 weeks for those aged 55 to 64; and 43.4 weeks for those aged 65 and over. We have no reason to think that the labour marker for older people will be less ‘sticky’ in Turkey than in the USA.  In Turkey, and most probably in many emerging markets, the majority of the redundant older people will probably never return to work.

Turkey is not the only country where older workers and intergenerational solidarity have suffered from the pandemic. There’s a lot that can be done to counter these effects. It’s important to incentivise legitimate second careers, and change employers’ attitudes towards older workers. We shouldn’t forget that when the incomes of older workers are hit, intergenerational solidarity is undermined.

About the Author: Burcu Özdemir Ocaklı is an assistant professor at the Department of Social Work, Ankara University in Turkey. She is also a former doctoral student of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing (supervised by Prof. Sarah Harper). Her research interests include intergenerational relationships, old age welfare and gerontological social work. 

“The Effects of COVID-19 on Intergenerational Solidarity in Turkey” (120K490) was funded by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey.

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