Despite being in one of the world’s few Islamic republics, citizens in Iran have easy access to free contraceptives at government clinics and are required to undergo family planning counseling.
These services can be traced to the 1980s, when Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, realized that the baby boom he encouraged in order to produce soldiers to fight against Iraq could lead to Iran’s economic downfall in the long-run. He issued fatwas making birth control available and acceptable to even the most conservative of Muslims.
As a result, Iran managed to decrease its fertility rate from seven births per woman to less than two today – the largest drop ever recorded in history.
“It confounded all conventional wisdom that it could happen in one of the world’s few Islamic republics,” Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, a demographer at the University of Tehran, told the Los Angeles Times.
Experts say that the policies have been too successful now that the birth rate is down to 1.8 children per couple, far too low to replenish Iran’s population.
The government is now scrambling to reverse this change by promoting larger families. Some even speak of handing out gold coins to tempt parents to have more children in a country with an economy struggling against economic sanctions and 36 percent inflation.
“A gold coin won’t change couples’ calculations,” Mohammad Jalal Abbasi, head of the Demographics Department at Tehran University, told the Associated Press. “Many young Iranians prefer to continue their studies, not marry. Lack of financial ability to buy a house and meet expenses are among other reasons why the youth postpone marriage or have no interest in raising many children.”
Experts fear that if they fail to find a solution to Iran’s shrinking birthrate, the country’s population will not only fall, but also age, placing an even greater burden on an already-suffering economy. An aging population means that the government will have to spend more on pensions and healthcare.
Other factors make boosting the birth rate a near-impossible task. The Etemaad published research that showed that couples who have just married and those who have been married for up to three years either have no intention of having children, or only want one. This trend can be seen among people of any background in Iran, irrespective of social class, financial status, or literacy.
Moreover, like industrialized countries such as Canada or the United States, Iran has a near-universal literacy rate for girls between the ages of 15 and 24, many of whom know that children may jeopardize their chances of playing an increased role in society.
“Iranian women are not going back,” said Sussan Tahmasebi, an Iranian women’s rights leader now living in the United States.