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January 2013

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Iran: Taking Aim at Low Fertility and Women's Mobility
By Richard Cincotta, Demographer for Stimson and Woodrow Wilson centers
Reviewed by Michael Hornblow

One recent, noteworthy development in Iran has been the government's decision to eliminate family planning services from its budget. In this article Richard Cincotta of the Stimson Center discusses what he calls "the two rudder approach." One rudder or model strives for the perpetual Islamic State, while the other model, the Developmental State, seeks to mold Iran into a modern, economically competitive, and technologically sophisticated regional power.

The Islamic Model held sway in the early days of the Khomeini regime when the fertility rate, according to UN estimates, averaged over 6 children per woman. By the late 1980's with the end of the Iran-Iraq war and a new emphasis on economic growth, the government's policy shifted and encouraged smaller families. The fertility rate dropped quickly to its current 1.9 births per woman. Farzaneh Roudi, who studies this subject for the Wilson Center, points out that it took European countries 300 years to experience a similar decline. A good article on this subject by Roudi may be found at

The Iranian government under Khomeini also made substantial investments in the education of women and by the end of the 1990's Iran had closed the gender gap in primary and secondary education, and more women than men were being admitted to universities. Recently, however, the government announced that it was encouraging universities to restrict women from a wide range of professional disciplines.

It is too soon to tell if the government's new policies will have any effect on fertility rates. According to the UN's population division the median age in Iran increased from 18 in the mid 1970's to 28 today and is projected to increase to 40 by 2030 if present fertility trends continue. Roudi expects some increase as many of those born in the 1980's are now baby-bearing boomers. She points out, however, that contraception remains widespread in Iran as condoms are manufactured there and 74% of married women ages 15-49 practice family planning.

With regard to how new limits on women's education will shape Iran’s development, it is probably too early to tell what will happen. The upcoming elections in Iran may help provide an answer.bluestar

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