Fertility, Marriage, and Family Planning in Iran: Implications for Future Policy

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The Islamic Republic of Iran has experienced a remarkable demographic transition over the last three decades. As a result of social, demographic and economic changes, Iran’s fertility declined from 7.0 births per woman in 1980 to around 1.8 to 2.0 in 2011 based on our estimation (McDonald et al. 2015). The initial rise and rapid fall of fertility accompanied by a decline of child mortality led to a post-revolutionary youth bulge in the age distribution that will lead to rapid ageing in the longer-term future. Others have argued that Iran’s fertility has fallen to much lower levels - as low as 1.5 births per woman (eg. Erfani 2013). Such low estimates led to the Government of Iran adopting a pronatalist policy with the aim of increasing fertility, although the components of the policy are still under discussion. Different views have been expressed on the role of family planning and other programs in meeting population policy goals in Iran in the future with some advocating the discontinuation of government assistance to family planning. This paper aims to review the trends and levels of fertility, marriage, and family planning and their implications for policy. Using various datasets and detailed parity-based measures of fertility, the dynamics of fertility regulation practiced by Iranian couples are investigated. Our findings suggest that contraceptive use stabilized before 2000 and postponement of the first child and wide birth intervals are the main contributors to the level of fertility. Therefore, instead of discontinuation of the family planning program, policy to sustain fertility at its present level or a little higher needs to focus upon improving the economic circumstances of young people so that they are able to make less constrained choices about family formation than is the case at present.

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Analysis and debate on policy questions raised by population change

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