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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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Couples Cohabiting in Iran--Is Women's Liberation Next?

Thanks to Debbie Fugate for pointing me to an article yesterday on BBC News about the rise in cohabitation among young couples in....Iran. This seems like a classic clash of tradition and the modern world, in which we can only hope that the modern world prevails.
In a country where strict Islamic laws mean shaking hands with the opposite sex is illegal, cohabitation is a crime that risks severe punishment.

Nevertheless, increasing numbers of unmarried couples are now choosing to live together.

There are no official statistics, but it has become common enough for a popular women's magazine, Zanan, to devote a special issue to the subject recently.
Needless to say, the government is not happy about this. Indeed, no government that I have ever heard of was strongly in favor of cohabitation. But, as western nations have discovered, it is symptomatic of other changes taking place that cannot be crunched by government enforcement. In Iran, as in the U.S. and much of Europe a few decades ago, the problem is that it is not easy--and especially it is expensive--to get a divorce. And that refers to men--it is almost impossible if you are a woman. In a society where a man may marry as many as four wives at a time and has greater freedom to divorce any of them than they have to divorce him, the unequal status of women relative to men is bound to cause problems as both men and women become better educated and see the world in a less traditional light. Fortunately, the availability of contraceptives means that cohabitation does not necessarily mean that children will be born into this situation--which seems the greatest fear of government officials. To be sure, the fact that the TFR in Iran is currently estimated to be 1.9 children per woman (below replacement) tells us about the effectiveness of contraception and the ineffectiveness of the government to control the desire of young men and women to have a more equal relationship. 

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