US Foreign Policy
Commentary

Prospects For Ahmadinejad’s Call For More Rapid Population Growth In Iran

in Program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent remarks, appealing to Iranian legislators to take steps to boost the country’s population from 70 to 120 million and condemning the country’s recent attainment of the two-child family, raise questions about the Islamic republic’s demographic future. Because Iranian women’s average fertility is near (and perhaps below) the replacement level, demographers project the country’s youthful population (15-to-29 year olds comprise about one-half of all adults) is on track to develop, within a decade, into an older, more manageable age structure resembling those of East Asia’s industrializing economies in the 1990s. Should it remain on this path, Iran’s population will evolve away from the politically volatile age structures plaguing neighboring Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia to the west and south, and Afghanistan and Pakistan to its north and east (Figure 1). While Ahmadinejad may intend to reverse this trend, he could find it hard to limit the provision of family planning services, which are popular and fully integrated into the local health infrastructure. And there is little evidence suggesting that a shift to pro-natalist policies would have a substantial effect on Iranian women’s fertility. Ahmadinejad’s next moves to influence fertility — if they materialize — may demonstrate the extent of the Iranian president’s influence on domestic programs, the popularity of hard-line policies, and the depth of his relationship with the Shiite theocracy.

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