This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Women's Rights in Iran

Fertility levels that are close to replacement almost always signal that rights have been won by women for participation in the world beyond the confines of the home. So, if you know that the total fertility rate in Iran has dropped in one generation from more than six children per woman to the current level of less than two, you know that women have experienced a dramatic shift in their lives. This point was made in a story in the New York Times about the increasing acceptance in Tehran of single women living apart from their families.

There are no official statistics on the number of women living by themselves in big cities in Iran. But university professors, real estate agents, families and many young women all say that a phenomenon extremely rare just 10 years ago is becoming commonplace, propelled by a continuous wave of female students entering universities and a staggering rise in divorces.
The shift has left clerics and politicians struggling to deal with a generation of young women carving out independent lives in a tradition-bound society, away from the guidance of fathers and husbands. Desperate to stop the trend, the government introduced a campaign to promote quick and cheap marriages — but it backfired, experts said, by cheapening an institution deeply anchored in Iran’s ancient culture.
That has left the young women to develop strategies to fend for themselves in a society where social codes are often based on deep suspicion of female sexuality. Shoukoufeh, who would not give her full name for fear of losing her lease, said that prying eyes often peek through the cracks of doors whenever she walks down the hallway. But she said she draws strength from her parents, who support her choice to live alone.
“They know I want to be independent,” she said decisively. “They understand times have changed.”
Education, urbanization, delayed marriage (and of course delayed childbearing) are the themes here, pushed forward by the parental generation it seems, which suggests that this is more than a symptom of rebellious youth. 


  1. I have been closely following events in Iran for some time now. I have been intrigued by Spengler's argument that the factors you mention do not completely account for the decline in birth rates in Iran. His article is here:

    He suggests that an important part of the demographic decline is that Iranians have simply lost confidence in their culture and state, and so are much less likely to continue it by producing a new generation. Does this argument hold any water in your opinion?

  2. I do not claim to be an expert on Iran, but at the same time I would argue that the kinds of changes that Spengler defines as spiritual decay and nihilism are actually manifestations of the genuinely huge cultural revolution that is involved with the movement of women into education and out into the labor force. Yet, even as this is happening, the traditional attitudes towards the role of women within the family are likely not be changing as quickly. Thus women are caught in the trap of being accepted as approximately equal to men in an increasing portion of the public sphere, but much less so in the private sphere. This type of ambivalence about gender roles is, in my opinion, the very same phenomenon that has pushed birth rates below replacement level in Southern and Eastern Europe. I don't think that people in Iran or elsewhere are deliberately not producing a next generation--rather they are struggling with the personal negotiation of current cultural shifts and economic crises.

  3. Also, demographic studies show fairly high abortion rates in the cities. Interestingly, the surveys indicate that a fair proportion of women have made this decision with their spouse, most often for economic reasons.

  4. These are helpful comments. But do we have any studies tying happiness to demographics? Intuitively it seems correct that happy, hopeful people would have more children than ones who are not, but look at Gaza which is one of the most wretched stretches of land in the world, yet has a very high birth rate. And then Sweden, as I recall, supposedly has one of the happiest populations in the world yet has a birthrate below replacement level. These are complex questions and if either of you have any leads on research addressing them I would be most grateful.

  5. Dear Professor
    Unfortunately, blog spot is filtered in Iran, and I love the content of your blog and I like to read them every day. I wish you turn it to a site.