Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Thursday, April 10, 2003
Question for the demographically knowledgeable: when did Iran undergo the demographic transition? And why?

I think this is an important question. According to the CIA World Factbook, Iran's fertility rate is right at replacement: 2.01 children per woman. This is, to say the least, not typical of the region. Here are some comparisons to neighboring countries:

Iraq: 4.63
Saudi Arabia: 6.21
Kuwait: 3.14
Jordan: 3.15
Turkey: 2.07
Pakistan: 4.25
Afghanistan: 5.72
Turkmenistan: 3.54
Armenia: 1.53
Azerbaijan: 2.29

The only country in the vicinity with a lower fertility rate is Christian and post-Soviet Armenia. Iran, a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy, has roughly the same fertility rate as secular Turkey (or, for that matter, the USA).

When did this transition to lower fertility happen? It can't have happened that long ago, because 31% of the population is under 14 (versus 21% in the US and 24% in China). Could we just be dealing with the after-effects of economic development under the Shah?

This seems to me significant, because the demographic transition is a very good shorthand, I think, for a whole host of cultural developments that can be simply described as "good." I've harped in the past on how Iran is a good candidate for democracy because of (a) its strong national identity, and (b) its miserable experience with theocratic dictatorship. But this is another positive factor: it already has the demography of a country that has made or is making the transition. But it's still an interesting puzzle how this cultural "readiness" came about in a country *under* theocratic dictatorship. Could Iran ultimately turn out to be more analogous to, say, Spain than to any Middle Eastern state?