Family Planning Program and Recent Fertility Trends in Iran

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Author(s): Aghajanian A

Year: 1998


Iran is a Middle Eastern country that shares  as a religion with other countries in the region. The majority of Iranians practice the Shiat sect of Islam, which differs in some details from the Sunit sect practiced in most of the Arab countries of the Middle East. From the pre-Islamic era, Iran has inherited the Persian culture and language. The pre-Islamic religion in Iran was Zoroastrianism, a polytheistic religion. Formerly known as Persia, the modern state of Iran has emerged as a strong and rich civilization. The Iranian socio-cultural system has evolved through an interaction of Islam and the pre-Islamic Iranian civilization. During the spread of the Islamic Empire, Iranian society made great contributions to eastern culture, literature, philosophy and science. However, after suffering several devastations, such as Mongul and Timurid invasions, Iran entered the 20th century with an underdeveloped economy, weak central government, and strong internal interference from the European colonial powers.    Western culture first impacted Iran in the early years of the 19th century and this built up into a full scale westernization of Iranian society in the 1970s (Banani, 1961; Menashri, 1992). The first half of the 20th century saw a sustained effort at modernization and westernization by the government. Political centralization and exportation of oil facilitated some industrial development and modernization of the infrastructure (Abrahamian, 1982; Lapidus, 1988). Economic development and modernization were accompanied by the growth of a strong and modern army, a secular educational system, and a strong nationalistic ideology.    During the postwar period, 1955-1979, Iran was characterized by rapid economic growth and modernization supported by government spending and fueled by oil exports (Bill, 1988) . Structural changes in the economy were accompanied by social reforms, such as an effort to redistribute farm land in order to provide a more favorable social milieu for economic development. Legal and symbolic changes were introduced to enhance the social status of women and increase their participation in social and economic domains outside the household. These changes included granting women the right to vote and political participation, and placing women in high positions within the government bureaucracy. A new set of family laws were passed to improve the legal status of women within marriage and the family. These legal and symbolic changes were aimed not only at promoting the status of women, but also at affecting patterns of family formation and levels of fertility and family growth.    Despite a relative improvement in the well-being of the urban population (especially those in certain regions), the Monarchy's modernization process in Iran generated a growing regional and ethnic polarization (Aghajanian, 1983). The massive economic growth of the 1960s and 1970s benefitted the central and northern regions of Iran but left the population living in the marginal areas deprived (Amirahmadi, 1987). Notwithstanding a remarkable improvement in economic growth, the society faced growing ethnic, regional, and class inequalities in the 1970s. Along with modernization efforts, a strong infiltration of Western culture, and especially those components of Western culture that were at odds with Iranian Islamic traditions, created other divisions among the populations of various areas. Cultural, religious, economic, and social discontent accumulated over the years and culminated in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.    The Islamic revolution was a turning point in the social and economic history of Iran. The revolution changed the social fabric of the society and the economy of Iran through policies aimed at revitalizing Islamic values in all aspects of life. Legal changes introduced to implement these policies, and a cultural shift toward Islamic values were reinforced by mass media, especially television, as well as formal and informal educational programs. Unfortunately, eight years of war with Iraq, 1981-1988 (Chubin, 1988), drained off a significant portion of the social and economic resources which otherwise would have been available for infrastructure development and social programs after the revolution. In recent years, there have been new efforts made to faster economic development and reconstruction in the wake of this destructive war. Serious efforts have been made by the Islamic government to improve living standards and to provide basic amenities to the rural communities and villages. A second economic development plan has been implemented, and a strong program of basic health care and family planning established.    The existing institutions and social arrangements in Iran reflect influences from the pre-Islamic civilization, long-standing Islamic values and prescriptions, the earlier (1960s and 1970s) modernization efforts, the Islamic Revolution, eight years of destructive war, and the more recent efforts toward economic development. In addition to the historical influences, the physical and ethnic diversity of Iran has always influenced family formation and child bearing in local areas and among the major ethnic communities. Although the inhabitants of Iran are both ethnically and linguistically diverse, they have in common that over 99 percent are Moslems. There are a limited number of Jews and Armenians in Iran, but they have never constituted a significant proportion of the population. The most important ethnic groups are the Persians, Turks, Baluchis, Arabs, and Kurds. Apart from Tehran, the capital city, and a few other major industrial centers, such as Isfahan, that have drawn a large number of migrants from different ethnic groups, the other regions in the country are ethnically and linguistically homogeneous. Three provinces in the Northwest have Turkish communities. Two provinces in the west include Kurdish communities. In the southern part of Iran, three provinces on the Persian Gulf include a mixture of Arabs and Persians. In the East, Baluchis live in the province of Baluchistan. The Central Plateau of Iran is populated by Persians.    The recent history of Iran can be divided into three periods. Each period approximates contrasting eras in terms of ideology, economic growth, modernization, and population policy. The 1966-76 period approximates an era of government policies that sought to accelerate economic growth, control the birth rate, and promote modernization. The 1976-88 period approximates an era of revolutionary changes and a return to the basic principles of an Iranian Moslem society, deterioration of the economy due to the war, and a lack of government policy on population growth. Since 1988, a new direction of reform and change has been established in Iran. Soci-economic planning has been taken seriously as a means for achieving economic growth and increasing living standards. Economic modernization is promoted while at the same time preservation of Iranian and Islamic values and orientations are encouraged. During this period, a high population growth rate has been viewed as an impediment to economic development. Therefore, a population policy has been established and a fertility control program vigorously implemented. 

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