Farzaneh Roudi for the Middle East Program
Iran Is Reversing Its Population PolicyAugust 29, 2012 By Wilson Center Staff
Once again, the Iranian government is reversing its population policy – its fertility policy, to be more precise. Alarmed by the country’s rapidly aging population, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is now calling on women to procreate and have more children, and the Iranian Minister of Health and Medical Education Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi has recently said, “The budget for the population control program has been fully eliminated and such a project no longer exists in the health ministry. The policy of population control does not exist as it did previously.”
This comes at a time when the government is barring women from entering some academic fields in higher education, which makes one wonder if this is a coordinated effort to engineer women’s position at home and in society. Regardless, Iran’s population control policy that came about more than two decades ago had increasingly become outdated for today’s Iran.
Iran stands out for lowering its fertility in a short time without coercion or abortion. The total fertility rate dropped from 6.6 births per woman in 1977 to 2.0 births per woman in 2000 and to 1.9 births per woman in 2006. The decline has been particularly impressive in rural areas where the average number of births per woman dropped from 8.1 to 2.1 in one generation. (To put into perspective the speed at which Iran’s fertility declined, it took about 300 years for European countries to experience a similar decline.)
Because of the high fertility rate that Iran experienced in the recent past, followed by a sharp decline, Iran’s population is now aging rapidly. According to the United Nations Population Division, the median age in Iran increased from 18 in the mid-1970s to 28 today, and it is expected to increase to 40 by 2030, if the fertility trend continues. Yes, Iran is facing an aging population, and this may well be in the minds of Ayatollah Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and some other officials who are encouraging Iranian women to have more children.
Sources: Telegraph, UN Population Division, U.S. Institute of Peace.