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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Iran's Birth Rate Plummeting at Record Pace:

Success Provides a Model for
Other Developing Countries

Janet Larsen*
December 28, 2001

 

Iran's population growth rate dropped from an all-time high of 3.2 percent in 1986 to just 1.2 percent in 2001, one of the fastest drops ever recorded. In reducing its population growth to 1.2 percent, a rate only slightly higher than that of the United States, Iran has emerged as a model for other countries that want to accelerate the shift to smaller families.

Historically, family planning in Iran has had its ups and downs. The nation's first family planning policy, introduced in 1967 under Shah Reza Pahlavi, aimed to accelerate economic growth and improve the status of women by reforming divorce laws, encouraging female employment, and acknowledging family planning as a human right.

Unfortunately, this promising initiative was reversed in 1979 at the beginning of the decade-long Islamic Revolution led by Shiite Muslim spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

During this period, family planning programs were seen as undue western influences and were dismantled. Health officials were ordered not to advocate contraception. During Iran's war with Iraq between 1980 and 1988, a large population was viewed as a comparative advantage, and Khomeini pushed procreation to bolster the ranks of "soldiers for Islam," aiming for "an army of 20 million."

This strong pronatalist stance led to an annual population growth rate of well over 3 percent. United Nations data show Iran's population doubling from 27 million in 1968 to 55 million in 1988.

During postwar reconstruction in the late 1980s, the economy faltered. Severe job shortages plagued overcrowded and polluted cities. Iran's rapid population growth was finally seen as an obstacle to development. Receptive to the nation's problems, Ayatollah Khomeini reopened dialogue on the subject of birth control. By December 1989, Iran had revived its national family planning program. Its principal goals were to encourage women to wait three to four years between pregnancies, to discourage childbearing for women younger than 18 or older than 35, and to limit family size to three children.

In May of 1993, the Iranian government passed a national family planning law that encouraged couples to have fewer children by restricting maternity leave benefits after three children. It also called for the Ministries of Education, of Culture and Higher Education, and of Health and Medical Education to incorporate information on population, family planning, and mother and child health care in curriculum materials.

The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance was told to allow the media to raise awareness of population issues and family planning programs, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting was entrusted with broadcasting such information. Money saved on reduced maternity leave funds these educational programs.

From 1986 to 2001, Iran's total fertility-the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime-plummeted from seven to less than three. The United Nations projects that by 2010 total fertility will drop to two, which is replacement-level fertility.

Strong government support has facilitated Iran's demographic transition. Under the current president, Mohammad Khatami, the government covers 80 percent of family planning costs. A comprehensive health network made up of mobile clinics and 15,000 "health houses" provides family planning and health services to four fifths of Iran's rural population. Almost all of these health care centers were established after 1990. Because family planning is integrated with primary health care, there is little stigma attached to modern contraceptives.

Religious leaders have become involved with the crusade for smaller families, citing them as a social responsibility in their weekly sermons. They also have issued fatwas, religious edicts with the strength of court orders, that permit and encourage the use of all types of contraception, including permanent male and female sterilization-a first among Muslim countries. Birth control, including the provision of condoms, pills, and sterilization, is free.

One of the strengths of Iran's promotion of family planning is the involvement of men. Iran is the only country in the world that requires both men and women to take a class on modern contraception before receiving a marriage license. And it is the only country in the region with a government-sanctioned condom factory. In the past four years, some 220,000 Iranian men have had a vasectomy. While vasectomies still account for only 3 percent of contraception, compared with female sterilization at 28 percent, men nonetheless are assuming more responsibility for family planning.

Rising literacy and a national communications infrastructure are facilitating progress in family planning. The literacy rate for adult males increased from 48 percent in 1970 to 84 percent in 2000, nearly doubling in 30 years. Female literacy climbed even faster, rising from less than 25 percent in 1970 to more than 70 percent. Meanwhile, school enrollment grew from 60 to 90 percent. And by 1996, 70 percent of rural and 93 percent of urban households had televisions, allowing family planning information to be spread widely through the media.

As one of 17 countries already facing absolute water scarcity, Iran's decision to curb its rapid population growth has helped alleviate unfolding water shortages exacerbated by the severe drought of the past three years. An estimated 37 million people, more than half the population, do not have enough water.

The lack of water for irrigation has helped push Iran's wheat imports to 6.5 million tons in 2001, well above the 5.8 million tons of Japan, traditionally the world's leading importer. Total grain production dropped steeply between 1998 and 2000, from 17 million to 10 million tons, largely because of the drought. The grain area harvested has decreased steadily since 1993, rapidly shrinking grain production per person.

Dwindling per capita arable land and water supplies reinforce the need for population stabilization through forward-thinking family planning programs. Had the Iranian population maintained its 1986 growth rate of 3.2 percent, it would have doubled by 2008, topping 100 million instead of the projected 78 million.

Because almost 40 percent of Iran's population is under the age of 15, population momentum is strong and growth in the immediate future is inevitable. To keep growth rates low, Iran needs to continue emphasizing the social value of smaller families.

Among the keys to Iran's fertility transition are universal access to health care and family planning, a dramatic rise in female literacy, mandatory premarital contraceptive counseling for couples, men's participation in family planning programs, and strong support from religious leaders. While Iran's population policies and health care infrastructure are unique, its land and water scarcity are not. Other developing countries with fast-growing populations can profit by following Iran's lead in promoting population stability.


Data and Graphs



Source: < http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update4ss_data.htm >.

 


 

Population Increase in Iran, 1901 to 2000

Year

Growth Rate Percent
1901-1921 0.60
1921-1941 0.70
1941-1956 1.80
1956-1966 2.71
1966-1976 2.71
1976-1986 3.20
1986-1991 2.50
1992 2.30
1993 1.80
1994 1.75
1995 1.56
1996 1.41
2000 1.20
Source: Central Budget and Planning Organization and Statistics and Registration Administration of Iran, cited in personal correspondence with Farzaneh Bahar, Former General Director of Family Planning in Iran's Khorasan state, 23 December 2001.

 

Population of Iran, 1950 to 2000, with Projection to 2050
Year Million People
1950 16.9
1951 17.3
1952 17.7
1953 18.2
1954 18.6
1955 19.1
1956 19.6
1957 20.1
1958 20.6
1959 21.1
1960 21.7
1961 22.3
1962 22.9
1963 23.5
1964 24.2
1965 24.9
1966 25.6
1967 26.4
1968 27.2
1969 28.0
1970 28.8
1971 29.7
1972 30.6
1973 31.5
1974 32.5
1975 33.5
1976 34.4
1977 35.4
1978 36.5
1979 37.7
1980 39.1
1981 40.8
1982 42.6
1983 44.6
1984 46.6
1985 48.7
1986 50.8
1987 52.8
1988 54.8
1989 56.7
1990 58.4
1991 59.9
1992 61.2
1993 62.4
1994 63.5
1995 64.6
1996 65.8
1997 66.9
1998 68.1
1999 69.2
2000 70.3
2001 71.4
2002 72.4
2003 73.4
2004 74.4
2005 75.4
2006 76.4
2007 77.5
2008 78.5
2009 79.7
2010 80.8
2011 82.0
2012 83.2
2013 84.5
2014 85.8
2015 87.1
2016 88.4
2017 89.7
2018 91.0
2019 92.3
2020 93.5
2021 94.7
2022 95.9
2023 97.1
2024 98.2
2025 99.3
2026 100.4
2027 101.5
2028 102.5
2029 103.5
2030 104.5
2031 105.4
2032 106.4
2033 107.3
2034 108.2
2035 109.1
2036 110.0
2037 110.9
2038 111.8
2039 112.7
2040 113.5
2041 114.4
2042 115.2
2043 116.1
2044 116.9
2045 117.7
2046 118.5
2047 119.3
2048 120.0
2049 120.7
2050 121.4
Note: Population and growth rates calculated from United Nations data may differ from recent data reported above by the Iranian government. Source: United Nations Population Division, "World Population Prospects: The 2000 Revision," updated February 2001.

_______
* Courtesy of the Earth Policy Institute.
See original at < http//www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update4ss.htm >.

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