By Farzaneh Roudi
Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
With the signing of the Iranian Nuclear Deal and subsequent easing of economic sanctions, new opportunities will arise for Iranian workers to compete in the global market. Due to high fertility rates in the recent past, Iran has a large working-age population that stands to perfectly capitalize on these developments, allowing the country reap its demographic dividend. Iran cannot afford to miss this window of opportunity.
Iran is among a few countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and in the Muslim world more generally, that has completed the “demographic transition”— a shift from high to low mortality and fertility. This transition historically occurs when economies develop, as societies convert from largely rural agrarian based systems to predominantly urban industrial systems, and education and health improves. Death rates typically decline before birth rates do, however, resulting in an interim period of rapid population growth.
Adhering to this pattern, mortality rates in Iran dropped in the 1970s and 1980s, especially among infants and children, while fertility rates remained high — each woman on average gave birth to six or seven children. This resulted in a more than two-fold population increase within just 30 years, from 34 million people in 1976 to 71 million in 2006.
Near the turn of the 21st century, Iran’s fertility rate settled around the replacement level, close to two births per woman. Today, it is even lower, estimated to be around 1.8 births per woman. Given that Iran’s baby boomers are now in their reproductive years, the sheer number of couples having children gives momentum to the country’s population growth. According to projections by the United Nations Population Division, Iran’s population could grow to between 87 and 115 million people by 2050, depending on future fertility levels.
Picture: Shahrzad2 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons