Boratav was born in Konya. After his graduation from Ankara Gazi Lycee in 1955, he continued his studies at Ankara University, Law School. In 1960 he became a lecturer and researcher in that university in Finance and Economics, by getting a postgraduate degree on Public Finances. He was granted a doctoral degree in 1964 with his thesis about “income distribution and public finance”. He taught at Cambridge University between 1964-1966. In 1972 he was granted an assistant professorship at Ankara University for his thesis on "Progress of the SocialistPlanned Economy". In 1975, he worked as a specialist in the Health and Welfare Department of the United Nations Organisation, in Geneva, Switzerland. In early 1980, he became a professor at Ankara University. But after three years, he was dismissed from his position after the "1402" law put into effect by the Military coup of 1980 in Turkey. He then taught at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare from 1984–1986 and thereafter returned to his previous position at Ankara University. He has retired from teaching since 2002. He was honored in 2005 by a conference about his work, organized by Ankara University and History Foundation of Turkey. He continues to publish as one of the most influential scholars of Turkish economy and economic history. Boratav is a member of the Advisory Board of Praksis, a Turkish journal of social sciences. He is the son of renowned Turkish folklorist Pertev Naili Boratav.