Growing old before they grow rich, the culture that is Iran

by on January 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm in Current Affairs, Data Source | Permalink

Mass-produced condoms reached Iranians, as a month’s supply of birth control cost the equivalent of 10 cents in 1992. The birth rate dropped precipitously, now reportedly standing at 1.8 children per couple with a population of some 77 million people. Experts now say that drive might have been too successful, estimating that Iran’s population growth could reach zero in the next 20 years if the trend is not reversed.

The story is here.  Government clinics are no longer supplying vasectomy operations, but it remains to be seen if this trend can be stopped or reversed.  Unemployment, job insecurity, inflation, and the cost of housing are all cited as factors behind the low fertility rate, but it is unclear that even economic improvement will put such trends in reverse.  You will recall from Singapore that economic improvement can drive or keep down birth rates for its own reasons.

1 Finch January 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I thought people argued that birth control is not responsible for the demographic transition (see, for example,, but this article suggests going from no birth control to liberal birth control halved the birth rate.

2 Randy McDonald January 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Birth control was allowed by the Iranian government in the late 1980s, when it realized that the rate of population growth was too high for the Iranian economy to support.

3 mulp January 7, 2014 at 12:04 am

So, birth control was allowed in the US before in Iran because the US realized its growth was unsustainable, and the democratic Iran which follows US culture closely realized they were at a higher population density than the US and needed to put the breaks on or they would suffer a worse fate than the US where the high population growth is seen by many as leading the US to ruin?? (Just heard a session on C-Span to that effect seeking to end all immigration to the US to keep the US population from increasing).

4 A B January 6, 2014 at 2:32 pm

It’s amazing that these articles studiously ignore issues of faith and culture. After all, ultra-Orthodox Jews have the same access to condoms as atheists, and also live in smaller houses. Perhaps Iranians don’t like the culture imposed on them by the Mullahs.

5 Z January 6, 2014 at 5:46 pm

David Goldman covers this quite well in his most recent book. Religiosity tracks fertility across cultures.

6 collin January 6, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Maybe we should work to remove economic sanctions so they can a least be ‘richer’ before they get old for some audits of nuclear facilities.

Also, I believe with the current demographics and borders with other populated countries (think Pakistan), one way to mitigate low birth demographics (ie Singapore) is open borders. So making Iran a growing economy and stable political government might have additional benefits.

7 mike January 6, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Sure, their people might be dying off, but they can take solace in the fact that The Economy will continue on 100 years from now with completely different people inside the same geographical area.

8 mike January 6, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Just think if someone could have explained this to the Native Americans, they would have been so happy to know how things are today

9 mpowell January 7, 2014 at 11:30 am

What you are missing is that those immigrants can be taxed to pay for the care of future elderly Iranians which is what today’s Iranians will be. This is not a small benefit.

10 mike January 7, 2014 at 8:44 pm

I’m not missing that, I just think it’s a tiny benefit in comparison to having your civilization die out and being replaced by an entirely different one

11 ohwilleke January 6, 2014 at 4:00 pm

As a litmus test of the likely diplomatic course of Iran going forward, this is great news.

Demographic transition to lower fertility is strongly associated with stable economic development that is not natural resource based (there are rich, high fertility countries like Saudi Arabia, but they have mineral exploitation economies). Declining is also strongly associated with declining religious fundamentalism (or for that matter, extremism generally – China’s economic liberalization coincides strongly with declining fertility).

One can argue cause v. effect, but the bottom line is that this is a very strong indicator that Iran will be more moderate in the medium term future than it has been in the past.

12 chuck martel January 6, 2014 at 4:43 pm

” Iran will be more moderate in the medium term future….”

Why? Do the policies of the ruling mullahs and their praetorians, the Revolutionary Guard, reflect the desires of the general population, which are hardly unanimous? Did the Iranian demographics of the past 75 years produce whatever the political situation is now? There’s almost a quarter of a million conscripts in the Iranian army, are they all pleased as punch to be fodder for Israeli weapons?

13 ohwilleke January 7, 2014 at 3:32 pm


Until the Saudis or Kuwaitis, for example, most of Iran’s GDP comes from the productive activity of a quite substantial middle and working class, not just from oil revenues. Economic power is much more dispersed in Iran than it is in many of its peers, and you can have a robust and flexible economy (which trade sanctions have forced Iran to develop) while simultaneously having a North Korea grade control on sharing information informally. And, the political clout of the military is muted now that we’ve neutralized the military threats posed by Iraq and Afghanistan, its two biggest neighbors, so they can’t credibly claim to be indispensable to save the nation’s butt (and a lot of its resources are devoted to tying up the Persian Gulf on demand rather than fighting its own people).

Iran’s electoral system is obviously flawed, but it also has genuine contested determined by voters between people who have different policy agendas, and these “secular” elected officials are seeing their clout grow informally.

It the ruling mullahs really had the level of control over the lives of every day Iranians attributed to them, fertility wouldn’t have dropped nearly so much. This is indirect evidence that the mullahs are given no more than lip service in many respects where they claim authority. Iran has probably reached a point now or in the near future where a really suicidal call by the mullahs (e.g. to nuke Israel) might lead to a popular coup instead.

14 ohwilleke January 7, 2014 at 3:32 pm

should read “and you can’t have a robust and flexible economy”

15 chuck martel January 7, 2014 at 8:11 pm

“a robust and flexible economy”, “North Korea grade control”, “the political clout of the military is muted”, “resources are devoted to tying up the Persian Gulf”. You’re simply making things up.

16 A B January 6, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Until then, Iranian leaders may view themselves as having a closing window of opportunity to turn things around via adventurism– i.e., use their army now before everyone grows too old. And nothing grows a birth rate like a giant military win (see baby boom, US, 1945–).

17 Steve Sailer January 7, 2014 at 12:50 am

Use their army to do what? Grab some more of Baluchistan?

When was the last time Persia invaded anybody? The 1840s?

This idea that Iran is going to invade the world Real Soon Now because their birthrate is low is a brilliant concoction by Spengler-Goldman (who used to a be a major LaRouchie) back in the last decade. You actually had to look a few things up on Wikipedia to see why it was stupid.

18 Richard Besserer January 7, 2014 at 4:08 am

The nice thing about being blessed with a sea of oil is you can bribe poorer nations with a larger number of young, desperate people to serve as your cannon fodder. No, Iran hasn’t tried invading Israel. That’s why they have Hizbollah.

Don’t you get tired making excuses for people just because you have it in for people like Tyler too?

19 Steve Sailer January 7, 2014 at 4:37 am

According to the CIA World Factbook, Iran is only 56th in the world for military expenditures as a part of GDP at 2.5%. In contrast, the U.S. is at 4.6%, Israel at 7.4%, and Saudi Arabia at 9.1%:

The reality is that Iran is a ramshackle country with too many people relative to its oil to play a terribly powerful role abroad. The stupid U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 handed the Iranians a new ally, but its old ally in the Assad regime of Syria isn’t doing so hot.

In contrast, Saudi Arabia has been swinging a lot of weight lately (e.g., invading Bahrain a couple of years ago, paying Syrian rebels, etc.), but you don’t hear much about it because Saudi Arabia is aligned with the U.S. and (quietly) Israel.

20 ohwilleke January 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm

”When was the last time Persia invaded anybody?”

In 1987, towards the tail end of the Iran-Iraq War

21 Steve Sailer January 7, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Seven years after Iraq started the Iran-Iraq war.

22 FC January 6, 2014 at 4:13 pm

“Government clinics are no longer supplying vasectomy operations, but it remains to be seen if this trend can be stopped or reversed”

I see what you did there.

23 MIchael D. Abramoff January 6, 2014 at 5:11 pm

A fertility rate of ‘reportedly 1.8’ does not seem well sourced. Documented fertility rate was 1.6 in 2012, from the 2013 UN Human Development Report:

Germany had its lowest fertility on record, 1.1, in 1933

We are destined to find out what the effects of a rapid, large decline in fertility are.

24 Cyrus January 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm

We are destined to observe phenomena correlated with a rapid, large decline in fertility. Causal relationships will remain a matter of debate for some time thereafter, perhaps indefinitely.

25 King Cynic January 6, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Is it just me, or does Tyler seem to think this is a bad thing?

In a world that has about 6 times more people than it could comfortably support without environmental collateral damage, we ought to be finding ways to drive the fertility rate of the entire world to Iranian levels.

26 Cliff January 6, 2014 at 10:32 pm

No, we oughtn’t. World population is already stabilizing in the near future and then trending down. Unless we want to extinct ourselves (yes there are lots of people who want to) we should be worried about maintaining replacement level fertility. This is particularly true if you don’t want your descendants to die out and be replaced by completely different peoples and cultures.

27 mike January 6, 2014 at 11:30 pm

It seems like a disproportionate number of high-profile commentators on reproduction are those who have zero biological children themselves…

28 GiT January 7, 2014 at 12:58 am

“your descendants to die out and be replaced by completely different peoples and cultures”

Descendants pretty much *are* completely different peoples and cultures. It doesn’t matter how much you reproduce – you get replaced by different peoples and cultures, no matter what. But yeah, hold on to that dream that 100 years from now someone will be 1/8th your blood line, cause that’s really important.

29 Steve Sailer January 7, 2014 at 1:02 am

Paging Dr. Darwin, paging Dr. Darwin …

30 GiT January 7, 2014 at 6:28 am

Gee, I must have missed the part of Darwin were gene propagation became a moral guide, rather than a descriptive theory.

31 msgkings January 7, 2014 at 1:08 pm

+1 to GiT

32 So Much For Subtlety January 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm

GiT – Nice change of subject. No one has said a word about morality until you brought it up.

But it is interesting to see an argument that is ultimately about Sky Pixies come from the Left. I thought you guys supported, like, the Science?

Ultimately it is hard to distinguish moral guides from gene propagation. If only because if a culture does not spread its memes, pretty soon it ceases to exist and some other culture that links the spread of memes with the spread of genes takes over. As is happening in Europe. The British Left quite openly argued for replacing the population (that voted Conservative) with immigrants who would vote Labour.

33 GiT January 7, 2014 at 10:36 pm

SMFS – Cliff offers us a prudential ought in the context of possessing a particular value. If one wants to propagate one’s blood line, one ought to care about fertility levels. Which simply raises the question: why should propagating a blood line be a moral concern which motivates one’s actions?

34 Craig January 9, 2014 at 10:33 am

I hope your grandchildren enjoy eating jellyfish. That will be the only wild fish left in the oceans to be caught.

35 JWatts January 6, 2014 at 9:43 pm

“In a world that has about 6 times more people than it could comfortably support without environmental collateral damage…”

Or on the other hand in a world that can support many times the current population we are living in a relatively poor world. More people means more ideas, faster technological advances, greater trade, and higher diversity.

36 Rahul January 6, 2014 at 10:14 pm

It’d be an interesting excerise to list the ideas and technology breakthroughs that came out of India / China in the last 100 years.

I doubt innovation arises efficiently by multiplying people at the bottom.

37 mike January 6, 2014 at 11:32 pm

How could it be interesting when the answer is ‘none’?

38 mike January 6, 2014 at 11:37 pm

I mean, unless you count the one-child policy or antibiotic-resistant strains of infections

39 Steve Sailer January 6, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Heck, not much has come out of western France over the centuries.

Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment mapped the birthplaces of eminent figures in the arts and sciences, and a huge fraction came from within a few hundred miles of a line running from Lowland Scotland to Naples. The Rhine River was pretty much the centerpiece of this band. Lots of seemingly nice places like southwest France didn’t contribute all that much.

40 prior_approval January 7, 2014 at 12:25 am

‘not much has come out of western France over the centuries’

Yeah, who has ever heard of Pasteur? Pasteurization isn’t something that people experience on a daily basis, is it?

Or Descartes. It isn’t like we use graphing for anything much – who needs geometry and algebra bridged anyways. (Unless one thinks it is all a plot, of course).

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier? No one really cares about chemistry, right?

Or is the real problem that the French are ‘ethnic Catholics?’

41 prior_approval January 7, 2014 at 12:37 am

I might add, anyone familiar with southwestern France (the Aquitaine – also recognizes that saying little comes from southwestern France is much the same as saying little comes from a backwater that used to be tossed between various monarchies without much in the way of major rivers or ports.

Biarritz isn’t that ritzy, for example.

42 Steve Sailer January 6, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Iranians seem to think that 77 million Iranians is enough, so why should I be concerned?

43 Asad January 7, 2014 at 7:09 pm

The AEI had a surprisingly good paper on this. The writer argued that it was the education of women and not condoms or vasectomies that were the reason for the decline in fertility. I tend to agree with them, something like 60% of the university students in Iran are female and they have no desire to stay at home with multiple kids.

44 GiT January 7, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Of course contraception availability alone doesn’t cause anything to happen. It can only interact with people’s motivations. So it’s still probably an important reason for declining fertility.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: