By Faranak Bakhtiari

Middle-aged Iran: zero population growth in 20 years

May 19, 2021 - 17:24

TEHRAN – Iran, which is now called “middle-aged” with about 70 percent of the active population, is sounding the alarm about the declining trend of population growth and the upward trend of aging.

In 1977, the country's population grew by 3.4 percent annually, however, suddenly, it dropped to about 1.6 percent in 2006, and a decade later, the population growth rate stood at 1.24, showing a considerable decline.

However, some experts claimed that the rate has declined to 0.6 percent in 2020.

Generally, three factors of birth, mortality, and immigration are effective in population growth.

In 1977, the average number of children per woman was 7, which reached 1.8 children in 2006, and finally, in 2016, the ratio estimated at 1.24.

This trend has not occurred only in Iran, and many developed countries have followed this path over the past 50-60 years, Shahla Kazemipour, a demographer, told ISNA on Wednesday.

Referring to the causes of declining fertility as increasing literacy, education, and urbanization, she said that “whenever development indicators increase in each country, the fertility rate decreases and in Iran the fertility rate has decreased.”

The downward trend of population growth gradually decreases and reaches zero, then becomes negative. Negative population growth causes the population to disappear in the long run, she lamented.

She went on to say that it is estimated that population growth will reach zero in 2040 and then becomes negative, so the biggest concern is that Iran's population will age in the coming years, fertility will decline, and the population of youth will decrease.

Demographic window of opportunity

In demography, the population under the age of 15 is called “young”. In 1977, 46 percent of the people were young, while now 23 percent of the population are below 15 years of age.

In 2006, the elderly constituted 3 percent of the population, which now increased to 8-9 percent. At that time, the population was very young and now is middle-aged.

Iran has achieved a demographic window of opportunity which in all other countries led to economic prosperity so that Iran must seize the opportunity now before its working-age population starts to shrink and get older in the 2050s.

Pointing to the shortage of workforce in the next few years, she said: “When we have a large number of unemployed young people (amounting to four million in Iran), the number of unemployed will decrease.

Even if the population of Iran grows old over the next 30 years, 25 percent of whom are the elderly, 22 percent are children and we still have a 55 percent working-age population, so that it is unlikely to be economically worrying.”

Death rate increased by 20%

Population growth is higher in societies with high fertility and immigration, and it gets lower in societies with high mortality and migration.

But since 1977, at a time when mortality has been declining, fertility faced a declining trend, which has slowed population growth, she said.

In 2016, the death rate was about 4.6 per thousand population but reached 4.8 per thousand population in 2019. Thus, one of the reasons that population growth is going to be negative is the increase in mortality, despite the fact that life expectancy also increased, she explained.

“Over the past four decades, life expectancy has increased from 50 years to more than 70 years, 72 years for men, and 74 years for women.” But forecasts show that in the coming years, life expectancy will reach 74 years for men and 76 years for women.

Over the last one or two years, there has been a 20 percent increase in mortality due to the coronavirus epidemic, and this increase makes us closer to zero population growth, she stated.

Last year, 360,000 deaths have been registered, while 70,000 of which were related to COVID-19, according to official figures.

Socioeconomic factors decreased fertility rate

“Several socioeconomic factors, 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, lead to decreased fertility rate.

But the problem in Iran is the pace of decline, which is very high. So, we have to look for the reason that increased the pace.,” she explained.

To increase the birth rate, we must increase the social security of the people.

Plan on population growth, family support

The Majlis (Iranian Parliament) approved on March 16 to implement a population growth and family support plan for 7 years to change the declining trend of childbearing.

The plan stipulates health insurance for infertile couples, providing services and facilities to working women, providing health and nutrition support packages to mothers and children, educational opportunities for student mothers, providing livelihood support to families, and ongoing medical services to pregnant women.

As the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has emphasized that the seventh Five-Year National Development Plan (2021-2026) should focus on population growth, and on the other hand, the Expediency Council seeks a one-year extension of the Sixth Five-Year National Development Plan, it was decided to implement the plan for 7 years.

According to the law, all higher education institutions in the country are obliged to raise awareness about the positive aspects of childbearing, take the necessary measures such as producing content and learning packages, as well as holding festivals, workshops, temporary and permanent exhibitions.

The Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Sports, the Ministry of Culture, and other relevant institutions are obliged to allocate 30 percent of their budgets to those NGOs that work to reduce the age of marriage, facilitate youth marriage, encourage childbearing and strengthen families.

Employees with three to five children will be promoted. Maternity leave will be extended to 9 months by paying all salaries and related extras.

The government is obliged to establish a life insurance and investment fund for unemployed housewives with 3 or more children living in rural and nomadic areas by paying 70 percent of the life and investment insurance premiums.

The Ministry of Health is obliged to provide quality natural childbirth in state-run hospitals in a way that is completely free for people covered by insurance and people without insurance coverage.

Municipal public transportation services and cultural, sports, and recreational tariffs will be halved.

Tuition for children in private schools and educational centers will include a 20 percent discount.

All production, distribution, and service units are obliged to include phrases with the content of childbearing support on products and goods.

Evaluating the plan, Kazemipour concludes that it is a good plan and has a welfare aspect but requires strict enforcement to be implemented well. If it is not implemented well or only some clauses are implemented, the plan will not seem to be successful.

Population growth should meet needs of the youth

However, population growth requires a capability to address the needs of a young nation which can be fulfilled with various indicators, such as social and economic development, development of recreational and educational facilities, increasing the share of young people in managerial positions and among decision-makers, providing the conditions for the growth and prosperity of the youth.

Two years ago, members of the Majlis (Iranian parliament) passed a law banning the employment of retirees. But how much was it implemented?

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli has said that increasing the youth’s share in managerial positions is on the agenda, while the average age of managers in the ministry has decreased by only two to three years.

Statistics show that a quarter of the country's young population in decision-making positions is quite absent. However, if this young population is not exposed to practical empowerment, they will certainly face challenges in the future and will not be able to use the existing opportunities for growth and lose the opportunity in management and decision making.

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