Low fertility rates and high life expectancy are leading to an aging population in Iran, which could lead to severe economic crises, experts say.
Coinciding with World Population Day, which is celebrated on Monday, Tehran-based social scientist Mostafa Shahriari told Anadolu Agency that there is a risk of labor shortages and hence economic downturn in the country due to low fertility rates and an aging population.
While 1.59 million new births were registered in the Iranian calendar year 2015-2016, it dropped to around one million in the year 2020-2021, indicating a low population growth rate and a aging population, according to data from the Statistical Center of Iran.
Mohammad Eesa, 76, a village elder from Khorramdasht hamlet in central Iran’s Qazvin province, said he had never seen such slow population growth in his life.
His home province was once known for its burgeoning young population.
“It is sad and worrying that our beautiful country is aging so fast,” he told Anadolu Agency, attributing it to a myriad of socio-economic factors including unemployment and delayed marriages.
The septuagenarian had six children from two marriages, but none of his sons or daughters have more than two children, indicating a trend that is prevalent across the country.
While birth rates and fertility rates have dropped alarmingly around the world in recent decades, from West Asia to North Africa, the case of Iran is very intriguing.
From 6.5 children per woman in the 1980s to 1.6 today, Iran has earned a dubious distinction for having the lowest fertility rate in the entire region, posing new challenges for the blighted country. punishments.
From 3.9% in 1986, 2.5% in 1991, 1.5% in 1996, 1.6% in 2006, 1.3% in 2011, 1.2% in 2016 to less than 1% in 2021 – the downward trend in the rate of population growth in Iran has assumed alarming proportions over the years.
Taking into account the shrinking youth population, Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Kamal Heidari last year unveiled a plan in December to halt the decline in the country’s population growth in order to avoid the collapse of economic and social systems.
“Seven years later, if the trend continues, we will fall into the demographic black hole, and it will take at least 150 years to catch up with that,” he said.
The national budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 has allocated almost $450 million for the implementation of reproductive plans and other support plans.
Concerns about Iran falling into the “demographic black hole”, a phenomenon prevalent in countries like Japan, Italy and Germany where immigrants are flown in to keep the economy going, are widely shared.
Officials and experts have sounded the alarm over the country’s population growth rate falling to zero over the next decade, which could also spur migration and brain drain.
Shahriari says growing economic problems in recent years as a result of sanctions have dramatically changed social dynamics, with young people delaying marriage, sticking to family planning and, in some cases, asking for migration abroad .
“Issues such as stagnant population growth, declining fertility rates or even demographic shifts do not occur in a vacuum,” he said, pointing to socio-economic factors such as unemployment, inflation and changes in people’s preferences and lifestyles.
During the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty, which ended in 1979, Iran vigorously promoted a Western-backed family planning program to control population growth, but this seemed to have little impact, says Mahdi Mohammadi, a contemporary historian.
“In the years following the 1979 revolution, women in Iran had an average of six children, which was largely due to Ayatollah Khomeini’s rejection of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s population control program, as it thought the program was not compatible with Islam,” he said.
But after the first Gulf War in the early 1990s was accompanied by serious economic problems, two reformist presidents, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, again promoted the policy of small numbers.
In the mid-2000s, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power, the family planning program was again abandoned. But the number of births per woman continued to decline.
In May 2014, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presented a 14-point plan to resolve the problem, which was shared with parliament, the judiciary and the executive, emphasizing the “role positive of the population in the progress of the country”.
The plan included raising the fertility rate above replacement levels, removing barriers to marriage, reforming the education system, promoting the Islamic way of life, and managing immigration, among others.
In accordance with this plan, successive governments have taken measures to stimulate population growth.
“These measures are welcome, but they are also essential to tackle the root cause of the problem, namely the deterioration of the economic situation,” Shahriari said.
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