By Faranak Bakhtiari

International Day of Families: population growth needs family-friendly policies

May 18, 2020 - 22:21

TEHRAN – Population, development and their consequences are strategic issues that require short-term and long-term policies and planning to be addressed. Due to the declining trend of population growth in Iran, it is better to focus on family-friendly policies.

Population decline comes up with consequences, including the reduction of the working population (aged 15 to 64) and the aging population in the coming decades, the general population growth policy was announced on May 20, 2014, by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The policies address the need to increase the population and the various dimensions of it, including childbearing, facilitating marriage and strengthening the family, reproductive health, promoting the Iranian-Islamic lifestyle, empowering young people, honoring the elderly, and the environment, which can lead to an increase in the quantity and quality of the population if it is timely and continuous implemented. 

However, the question is, where has been the process of implementing the general population policies in recent years? How is it possible to achieve the goals of population policies, which are to increase the growth of the population, considering the qualitative dimensions? And finally, what are the strategies for institutionalizing population policies and programs in the country?

In recent years, the “population control” discourse has been replaced with “increasing population and childbearing” at the micro and macro levels, and the issue of “why” has changed to “how to implement” new population policies.

Despite this change in discourse, the implementation of population policies has been slow and fewer goals achieved due to the lack of coordinated management as well as the lack of necessary economic, social, and managerial platforms.

The Statistical Research and Training Center has proposed four optimistic and pessimistic views on fertility rate in the country, according to which the total population of the country in 2050 reaches a minimum of 95 million and a maximum of 112 million people.

The first view claims an increased fertility rate of about 2.6 children in 2050 (optimistic), through which the total population will reach up to 112,475,000.

The second one, by stabilizing the total fertility rate from 2016 onwards, equaling 2.11 children, the total population will stand at 104,017,000.

According to the third view, with a decrease in the total fertility rate with a steep slope below the replacement level of 1.5 children (pessimistic), the country's population will be 95,317,000.

And in the fourth case, by reducing the total fertility rate by a gentle slope to below the replacement level of 1.9 children in the country's population will reach 101,392,000.

Studies have shown that Iran's mortality rate has been steadily declining in recent decades, among the factors influencing this, young population, the improvement of nutrition and health progress in recent decades are of great importance.

Iran has achieved a demographic window of opportunity which must be seized now before its working-age population starts to shrink and get older in the 2050s.

Support in the face of economic shocks a need

Mohammad Jalal Abbasi, a demographic expert and head of the Population Association, said that usually when society is facing economic shocks and psychological crises, as in the current situation of a global pandemic, marriages and childbearing are affected due to fears of a vague future.

Many may delay in making decisions about starting a family or having children, he added.

He went on to explain that therefore, “sustainable employment” is the best-guaranteed option and economic protection for families, in other words, sustainable employment takes precedence over marriage and the introduction of childbearing. 

Employment and marriage support policies need to be institutionalized so that couples' fertility behavior, with the benefit of this support, is less affected by cross-sectional circumstances, he highlighted.

Given the increasing number of university-educated women and the changes in family attitudes toward women's employment, it is expected that business rules will need to be regulated in such a way as to allow women to combine work, childbearing, and housework, he emphasized.

Evidence suggests that providing benefits for women in the form of “family-friendly policies”, increased maternity leave, job security after returning to work, and flexible working hours plays a major role in fertility rate, he noted.

Finally, given that population policies and programs do not achieve their goals in the short term, the flexibility, revision, and continuity of programs will lead to its success, as well as inter-sectoral cooperation, commitment, consensus combined with recognizing demographic developments and providing sustainable support programs.

International Day of Families

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly decided in a resolution that May 15 of every year should be observed as The International Day of Families. This day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase the knowledge of the social, economic, and demographic processes affecting families.

On September 25, 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals aiming to eliminate poverty, discrimination, abuse, and preventable deaths, address environmental destruction, and usher in an era of development for all people, everywhere. Families and family-oriented policies and programs are vital for the achievement of many of these goals.

Iran facing low birth rate 

According to the data released by the National Organization for Civil Registration, comparing past three years shows some 1,196,134 infants were born in the country whose births were registered last year, while 1,366,509 births occurred a year before it, and 1,487,913 births have been recorded in the Iranian calendar year 1395 (March 2016-March 2017), a difference of roughly over 100,000 per year.

A major contributing factor to this trend has been diminishing fertility rates in recent decades, further compounded by longer lifespans.

Moreover, socioeconomic factors led to fertility rate decrease and reproductive behavior in the country, including urbanization, education, financial issues, first marriage age, as well as increased access to family planning services along with increased time gap between the firstborn and marriage.

Between the Iranian calendar years of 1376 (March 1996-March 1997) to 1395 (March 2016-March 2017), the average age at first marriage for females increased from 19.8 to 23.0, and for males increased from 23.6 to 27.4.

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