Low fertility rates and high life expectancy are leading to an aging population in Iran, which experts say has the potential to cause serious economic crises.
Tehran-based social scientist Mostafa Shahriari, along with World Population Day, which is celebrated on Monday, told Anadolu Agency there is a danger of a shortage of labor and therefore an economic downturn in the country due to low fertility rates and aging of the population.
While 1.59 million new births were registered in the Iranian calendar year 2015-2016, it dropped to about one million in the year 2020-2021, indicating a low population growth rate and aging population, according to data from the Statistical Center of Iran .
Mohammad Eesa, 76, a village elder from the village of Khorramdasht in central Iran’s Qazvin province, said he had never seen such sluggish population growth in his lifetime.
His native province was once known for its growing youth population.
“It is sad and worrying that our beautiful country is aging so fast,” he told Anadolu Agency, attributing it to a host of socio-economic factors, including unemployment and delayed marriages.
The septuagener had six children from two marriages, but none of his sons or daughters had more than two children, indicating a trend occurring 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 interesting.
From 6.5 children per woman in the 1980s to 1.6 now, Iran has earned a dubious distinction for the lowest fertility rate in the entire region, which poses new challenges for the country plagued by sanctions.
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 of the population growth rate in Iran has assumed alarming proportions over the years.
Taking into account the declining youth population, Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Kamal Heidari unveiled a plan in December last year to halt the decline in the country’s population growth 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 make up for it,” he said.
The national budget for the 2021-2022 financial year has earmarked nearly $ 450 million for the implementation of childbirth and other support plans.
Concerns about Iran falling into the “demographic black hole”, a phenomenon common in countries such as Japan, Italy and Germany where immigrants are flown to keep the economy going, are widely shared.
Officials and experts have sounded the alarm bells about the country’s population growth rate falling to zero in the next decade, which could also spur migration and brain drainage.
Shahriari says growing economic problems over the past few years in the wake of sanctions have drastically changed social dynamics, with young people delaying their marriages, sticking to family planning and in some cases applying for migration abroad.
“Issues such as stagnant population growth, declining fertility rates or even demographic change do not happen in a vacuum,” he said, pointing to socio-economic factors such as unemployment, inflation and changes in people’s preferences and lifestyle.
During the Pahlavi dynasty, which ended in 1979, Iran vigorously promoted a Western-backed family planning program to control population growth, but it 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, largely due to Ayatollah Khomeini’s rejection of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s population control program, as he thought the program was incompatible with Islam,” he said. he said.
But after the first Gulf War in the early 1990s was accompanied by serious economic problems, two reforming presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami again promoted the less child policy.
In the mid-2000s, when Mahmoud Ahmedinejad came to power, the family planning program was abolished again. But the number of births per woman continued to decline.
In May 2014, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei outlined a 14-point plan to address the issue, which was shared with parliament, judiciary and the executive, emphasizing the “positive role of the population in the progress of the country. “
The plan called for increasing the fertility rate to above replacement levels, eliminating barriers to marriage, reforming the education system, promoting the Islamic lifestyle and managing immigration, among other things.
In line with the plan, successive governments have taken measures to promote population growth.
“These measures are welcome, but it is also essential to address the root cause of the problem, which is the deteriorating economic situation,” Shahriari said.
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