By Faranak Bakhtiari

COVID-19 impact on fertility should take center stage

July 10, 2021 - 21:35

TEHRAN – In this second year of COVID-19, many countries are expressing growing concern over changing fertility rates, in addition to losing hundreds of people daily due to the virus infection. So that, this World Population Day will focus on the impact of the pandemic on fertility.

The pandemic has compromised health care systems particularly in the area of reproductive health.

UNFPA advises against reactionary policy responses, which can be extremely harmful if they violate rights, health, and choices. The agency emphasizes that women must be empowered educationally, economically, and politically to exercise choice over their bodies and fertility.

World Population Day is observed on July 11 each year.

It took hundreds of thousands of years for the world population to grow to 1 billion – then in just another 200 years or so, it grew sevenfold. In 2011, the global population reached the 7 billion mark, and today, it stands at about 7.7 billion, and it's expected to grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 10.9 billion in 2100.

This dramatic growth has been driven largely by increasing numbers of people surviving to reproductive age and has been accompanied by major changes in fertility rates, increasing urbanization, and accelerating migration. These trends will have far-reaching implications for generations to come.

The recent past has seen enormous changes in fertility rates and life expectancy. In the early 1970s, women had on average 4.5 children each; by 2015, total fertility for the world had fallen to below 2.5 children per woman. Meanwhile, average global lifespans have risen, from 64.6 years in the early 1990s to 72.6 years in 2019.

In addition, the world is seeing high levels of urbanization and accelerating migration. 2007 was the first year in which more people lived in urban areas than in rural areas, and by 2050 about 66 percent of the world population will be living in cities.

These megatrends have far-reaching implications. They affect economic development, employment, income distribution, poverty, and social protections. They also affect efforts to ensure universal access to health care, education, housing, sanitation, water, food, and energy. To more sustainably address the needs of individuals, policymakers must understand how many people are living on the planet, where they are, how old they are, and how many people will come after them.

Zero population growth in 20 years

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 was estimated at 1.24.

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.

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.”

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.

 Highest fertility decline in human history

According to the data released by the National Organization for Civil Registration, the number of births registered during the [Iranian calendar] year 1390 (March 2011-March 2012) was equal to 1,382,118, which increased to 1,528,053 births in the [Iranian calendar] year 1395 (March 2016-March 2017).

However, the number of births in the whole country faced a downtrend over the past three years, as registered births decreased to 1,196,135 over the [Iranian calendar] year 1398 (March 2019- March 2020); a difference of roughly over 120,000 to 16,000 per year.

Nicholas Eberstadt, the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) wrote in an article in July 2020 that the fertility rate in Iran has dropped by 70 percent over the past 30 years, which has been the highest decline in human history.

Melinda Gates, an American philanthropist and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also wrote on her Twitter account that “The fastest decrease in the rate of childbearing per woman in the history of the world has happened in Iran!”

Seyed Hamed Barakati, deputy health minister for family and school population, said in May that Iran’s population growth rate has decreased to less than one percent for the first time over the past four decades.

At the beginning of the Islamic Revolution (in 1979), the country's population grew by 2.5 percent annually, however, suddenly, population growth reached about 1.5 percent in the 1980s, he highlighted.

How to reverse the trend?

Although, several plan and programs on population growth and family support have been proposed in the country to solve the downward trend of fertility, not an effective result have yet achieved.

Recently, 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.

However, it would be a good plan if it is strictly enforced and well implemented. If it is not implemented well or only some clauses are implemented, the plan will not seem to be successful, according to Shahla Kazemipour, a demographer.

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