Since the end of World War II, a number of the world’s most dramatic political events have resulted from demographic shifts and governments’ reaction to them. Despite this, political demography remains a neglected topic of scholarly investigation.
“We have a fairly unique moment in the history of the world,” said Steven Philip Kramer, a professor at National Defense University, at the Wilson Center on April 17. “There’s never been a time when people have voluntarily produced fewer children than is necessary for sustaining the population.” [Video Below]
›January 7, 2014 // By Laurie Mazur
While there has been much research on the effect of valuable natural resource extraction on a state’s domestic development (e.g., the “resource curse”), Wilson Center Fellow Jeff Colgan focuses on how natural resource extraction affects foreign policy. In Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War, Colgan finds that “petrostates” – countries where revenue from oil exports exceeds 10 percent of GDP – are twice as likely to engage in inter-state conflict than non-petrostates.
One year ago, the United States government froze all property of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian financial institutions within the United States. The move was part of a broader effort to compel the Islamic Republic to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program. How is it working out?
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.”
›August 8, 2012 // By Elizabeth Leahy Madsen
In late July, Iran’s government announced that it would no longer fund family planning programs, a dramatic reversal following 20 years of support. The change is especially abrupt for a country that has been lauded as a family planning success story, with thorough rural health services and an educated female population contributing to one of the swiftest demographic transitions in history.Although Iran’s government is headed by a conservative religious hierarchy and President Ahmadinejad had earlier implemented some pronatalist policies, the decision is still surprising for several reasons. It is also unlikely to meet its objectives; irrelevant to deeper economic concerns; unlikely to be popular; and most disheartening of all, a tremendous step backwards for individual empowerment and wellbeing.
Budget Cuts Ignore Demand and Counter Human Rights
Once family planning services are as widely available and adopted as they have been in Iran, demand for them is well entrenched and unlikely to ebb. Use of family planning offers several benefits that are tangible to individuals and families as well as societies: It improves the health of women and children while also promoting higher educational attainment and household incomes. Iranian women and couples are cognizant of these benefits and unlikely to cede them. Nearly 60 percent of Iranian women of reproductive age used an effective contraceptive method in 2002, the most recent year for which data is available.
Moreover, access to reproductive health services has been widely accepted as a human right for decades. Ironically, one of the first international accords “that couples have a basic human right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and a right to adequate education and information in this respect” was affirmed in Tehran in 1968. The Iranian government’s decision to limit such access is a clear refutation of this right.
Unlikely Prospects for Success
From a demographic perspective, the government’s attempt to make family planning services unavailable or unaffordable is unlikely to meet their stated objective of motivating larger families and higher population growth.
The government has already tried a more common approach for boosting fertility rates, offering direct payments to families for each child at birth and each successive year until adulthood. Such financial incentives have been implemented in several other low fertility countries, but as demographer John May has noted, they are typically much less effective compared to more comprehensive approaches addressing child care, work-family balance, and housing.
It is unusual for a government to take the more draconian step of restricting public access to contraception, whether through economic or legal means. One parallel is Romania during the Ceausescu era. Contraception was banned in 1966 and without access to family planning, women turned to illegal abortion. After an initial jump, fertility rates began to fall steadily, and by 1989 the country had the highest rate of maternal mortality in Europe. Although Iran’s government has not outlawed contraception outright and it should remain available through the private sector, cutting back services will create serious implications for lower income women who rely on public services. As the Romanian experience demonstrates, the desire to determine family size does not dissipate when contraception becomes unavailable.
Iran’s Challenges Go Beyond Aging
The stated justification for the government’s decision is to avoid population aging and eventual decline if fertility rates remain below replacement level. However, this rationale overlooks the serious economic constraints that are affecting all Iranians, particularly those of childbearing age. Until recently, the number of people ages 15 to 24, who include most entrants to the labor market, was growing steadily due to past high fertility. Youth unemployment stands around 23 percent, and a RAND analysis described the challenge of ensuring that these young people find jobs as “one of the most pressing social and economic problems the government has faced.” As the country urbanizes, the cost of living has risen sharply, exacerbated by the inflationary effects of international sanctions.
“The cost of living has risen a lot and the currency has lost its value by half,” said Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American who directs the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program. “So at this moment, where families are under economic pressure, the government is under economic pressure. To suddenly introduce the idea of having larger families and encouraging girls to get married at a much younger age – it’s one of the most un-thought, unplanned decisions taken by the Ahmadinejad government.”
As these challenges diminish young people’s economic prospects, they also serve to further tamp down fertility, limiting the government’s chances of success at markedly increasing population growth.
Esfandiari was surprised by the decision. “Iran was seen as a role model” of the demographic transition, she said. “It will not work. Iranian women are plucky, they are thoughtful. Sixty-five percent of entering classes at universities are women. How can you convince them to have a child every year?”
Elizabeth Leahy Madsen is a consultant on political demography for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and senior technical advisor at Futures Group.
Sources: Associated Press, Crane et al. (2008), Financial Times, Gribble and Voss (2009), Hord et al. (1991), Kligman (1998), May (2012), New York Times, Roudi (2010), Singh and Darroch (2012), UN Population Division, World Bank.
Photo Credit: “MMN,” courtesy of flickr user Emdadi (Mohammad Emdadi).
›January 25, 2012 // By ECSP StaffThe original version of this article, by Ethan Goffman, appeared on the Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy blog.
In a time of polarized politics in the United States, over the environment and just about everything else, an overlooked development is how much the military, as well as the national security apparatus, has taken on climate change and other environmental challenges. “Environment and Security” was thus a profoundly important choice of theme for the 2012 National Conference on Science, Policy, and the Environment, held last week in Washington, DC. With the early effects of climate change apparently already occurring, notably in an increase in natural disasters and in a new northwest passage through the Arctic, those responsible for our security can’t afford to sit around and engage in speculation that climate change is caused by sunspots or isn’t really occurring. It is the military’s job, after all, to take action against potential threats rather than getting immersed in domestic politics.
The concern with climate change is the next step in a widening of the concept of security from strict military matters, to include such interrelated strands as food and water access, public health, and the environment. Much of the military has already acknowledged that armed force alone won’t make us safe. “Energy security, economic security, environmental security, and national security are all inextricably linked. Address one and you need to think of the others,” explained Vice-Admiral Dennis McGinn at the conference.
One obvious linkage is the connection of our oil dependency with security risks that can easily draw us into conflict in politically unstable parts of the world. Just how much the recent wars in the Middle East are about oil, and how much about a clash of civilizations, is a matter of considerable debate, although undoubtedly both factors play a part. The Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, choking outgoing oil deliveries, underscores vulnerability on the energy issue. From another angle, in Afghanistan, the military experienced the fragility of supply lines for a force strongly dependent on large quantities of oil. The Air Force, in particular, is working on algal jet fuel to free us from such reliance. And the Navy’s need for more icebreakers and other capacity shows concern regarding shipping and resource exploitation enabled by the melting of Arctic ice and the new passage.
Continue reading on the SSPP blog.
Photo Credit: Sherri Goodman and Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, courtesy of Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.
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