Baby Boom or Bust

Being single in Iran could become very expensive if a conservative cleric gets his way. Mohammed Edrisi recently argued that unmarried Iranians over the age of 28 should pay a quarter of their income as a “singles tax” in order to incentivize marriage. Although the Iranian government is unlikely to adopt such stringent measures, it is increasingly searching for new ways to increase Iran’s fertility rate.

This is hardly the first time the Islamic Republic has pushed for a baby boom. Following the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini urged Iranian women to birth a new generation of Muslims. In just ten years, Iran's population nearly doubled. After eight years of war, however, the Islamic Republic suddenly backtracked. It offered free contraception and posted billboards preaching, “Fewer Children, Better Life.” The average number of births per woman fell from 5.5 in 1988 to 2 in 2000.

In 2012, Iran tacked back toward procreation.  It restricted access to contraception, and new billboards celebrating large families replaced the old warnings. But to the frustration of the Iranian government, its baby boom recently has turned into a baby bust. With youth unemployment estimated at 40 percent, starting or growing a family is a difficult proposition for most young Iranians. Economic sanctions and a global recession have worsened the problem. The last two years, the birth rate in Iran has fallen 3 percent per year, reversing the gentle growth trend that had begun in 2004.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, regularly proclaims his goal of increasing Iran’s population to 150 million, nearly double its current size, as a form of “jihad.” These children, he insists, are future soldiers. Whether Iran will have them, and what Iran will use them for exactly, remains to be seen.

This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.