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Middle East Research

Iran goes from 7 to 2 children per woman between 1986 and 2000

"Until about 1960 Iran had a population profile typical of largely rural, traditional societies, with a high birth rate and slightly less high death rate. People took fertility as a natural effect of conjugal sex. Children were expected, not planned; their absence had to be explained, not their presence." … During the Shah's regime, "public health programs, primary education for boys and girls, and the rising standard of living lowered infant mortality and increased life expectancy so that the population started to rise rapidly. Counseled by Western advisers, the government launched a birth control program based on the anti-natal agenda of a “modern” nation, including access to free contraceptives and abortion. … During the Iran/Iraq war (1980–88), Iran’s Islamist government adopted an aggressive pro-natalist stance and women viewed more children positively. "The government kept contraceptive devices legally available but did not advocate them. Health care workers and women reported that men disliked condoms and that oral contraceptives had negative health consequences for women. Tubal ligation and vasectomies became more acceptable, but stories about post-ligation pregnancies made women distrustful. Thus, contraception was only used to space children or to prevent pregnancies after six or seven children.

… Even as it was advocating high fertility, the Islamic government promoted modernist developments such as equal education for both sexes and health care for all. Simultaneously, the increasing oil wealth trickling down to lower classes and into the hinterland stimulated people’s aspirations for a better standard of living. At the same time, employment shifted from agricultural pursuits to work in cities, with diminishing need for children’s labor. The increasingly cash-based economy shifted family organization away from the extended family as a production/consumption unit to the nuclear family, with increased consumption and decreased willingness to support relatives. As lifestyle aspirations surpassed incomes, children became economic liabilities and young couples began to suggest that three children were enough, despite governmental pressure to produce more.

By 1989, half the population was under the age of 15. Unemployment was rising, and pressure on Iran’s infrastructure was mounting. By a narrow vote the parliament decided to officially limit the birth rate. In a marked policy reversal, after 1989 the staff at health clinics throughout the nation began promoting the health benefits of contraception for mothers and children. Patriotism now implied having small families.

Throughout the 1990s popular attitudes toward family size were further reinforced by media, the Internet, travel and contacts with the “Los Angeles cousins” (affluent expatriate Iranians), who exported Western middle class customs and values to Iran despite governmental opposition. An “ideology of progress” reached sufficient strength to extend to all areas and all social classes. Worsening economic conditions together with high consumer aspirations, neolocal nuclear families in expensive housing, and high debt-loads of young couples motivated Iranians to postpone first births, space children and declare two as the new limit. [view source]

Loeffler, Agnes and Friedl, Erika, "Cultural Parameters of a "Miraculous" Birth Rate Drop," Anthropology News, March 2009, pp.14-15

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