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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Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Demographics of No Deal with Iran

A framework is in place for Iran to slow down its path to a nuclear bomb in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. I commented earlier on what the demographic consequences of a final deal a few months from now might be. But what might be the demographic consequences if no deal is reached--the outcome seemingly sought by many members of the U.S. Congress, in concert with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu? Maintaining the sanctions would almost certainly keep fertility at its current below replacement level fertility. Keep in mind, of course, that the drop in fertility is still recent enough in Iran that there are a lot of young people (nearly one in five Iranians is between the ages of 15 and 24), so even low fertility leads to continued population growth.

With respect to population projections in Iran, it is interesting to note that the latest Pew report on population projections by religion has a lower set of projections for Iran than does the United Nations. For example, the Pew report projects a total of 86 million for Iran by 2040, at which point the population plateaus and then falls. The UN projections suggest a population of 97 million in 2040, rising to 101 million in 2050, and then finally leveling off in 2070. Although the methodology section of the Pew report suggests that they are using the medium fertility projections of the UN, it seems that at least in the case of Iran, they are projecting lower fertility levels--considerably below replacement level. This outcome strikes me as more likely if the sanctions are not lifted, than if they are. This would be consistent with long-term low fertility trends in much of Eastern Europe under Soviet rule, where internal economic "sanctions" kept people from desiring an early marriage and a large family. That trend, once established, has of course continued even after the end of the Soviet Union.

To the extent that people think of Iran in the same way that many Americans have thought about Cuba, then it is the leader that is important to "punish" with sanctions. However, the Ayatollah who led the original Iranian Revolution (Ayatollah Khomeini) was 87 when he died in 1989 and he was succeeded by Ayatollah Khamenie who is now 75. WHO life tables for Iran suggest that a man aged 75 has an average life expectancy of 9 more years. The Supreme Leader is likely to get better health care than the average person, however, so he too could easily hang on for another 12 years to age 87. That demographic does not work in favor of keeping sanctions in place. Of course, as in Cuba, the sanctions punish the "people" not the leaders, so sanctions are unlikely to have the desired effect on the leadership, anyway. In the end, a deal to monitor the nuclear activity of a large and growing population seems clearly to be a reasonable thing to pursue. Demographically, Iran is becoming an even more populous nation that is predominantly Shia Muslim, in a region that is predominantly Sunni Muslim. That is the key demographic, and is the reason why communication with Iran is so vital.

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