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The Future of Family Planning and Fertility in Iran Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 30th, 2019


One of the post-modernity’s main aspects is that fact that, as of today, the growth of the human population has attained a clearly defined exponential momentum. This raises certain concerns about whether the human civilisation will be able to maintain its resource-related sustainability in the future.

After all, unlike what it happened to be the case with ‘human resources’, the natural ones are not self-renewable, which in turn implies that, despite its politically incorrect sounding, the notion of overpopulation is indeed legitimate. What also adds to the sheer acuteness of the earlier mentioned issue is that there are no universally accepted discursive explanations as to what can be considered the actual causes of the exponentially defined process, concerned with the planet population’s continuial growth.

Moreover, there are no thoroughly comprehensive explanations as to the fact that there are a number of unmistakably phenomenological overtones to the issue at stake. The main of them is that some countries, formerly associated with the skyrocketing birth rate among their citizens, were nevertheless able to reduce this rate by 60% within the matter of a decade (Cohen 161). In this respect, Iran stands out as the perfect example.

However, there is a good reason to believe that, contrary to what it is being commonly assumed, there is nothing ‘mysterious’ about the ongoing ‘demographic boom’, on the one hand, and the fact that this process appears to be thoroughly manageable, on the other. In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above suggested at length.

There will be two consequential phases to how I intend to address the task: a) outlining the most relevant theoretical approaches to tackling the issue of high/low fertility, b) utilizing the obtained insights, in order to come up with the suggestions, as to the discourse-related implications of the current demographic situation in Iran.

Literature review

As of today, the most commonly deployed approaches towards dealing with the fertility-related issues can be generalised as ‘neo-Malthusian’, ‘phenomenological’ and ‘neo-Marxian’. The origins of the first of these approaches date back to the late 18th century, when Thomas Malthus published his famous Essay on the Principle of Population.

In this essay, Malthus promoted the idea that whereas the accumulation of a ‘surplus product’ increases in the mathematical progression to the flow of time, the simultaneous growth of the population, which makes the production of this product possible, occurs on an essentially geometrical (exponential) basis. As he pointed out: “The only true criterion of a real and permanent increase in the population of any country is the increase of the means of subsistence…

There must be periods when population increases permanently, without an increase in the means of subsistence” (Malthus 41). What it means is that people’s enthusiasm in ‘baby-making’ is a strongly counterproductive category as the more populous a particular society happened to be, the higher are the changes for it to collapse due to overpopulation.

There is one more implication to this Malthusian suggestion: the assumption that it remains well within the range of just about every government’s executive authority to exercise a control over the demographic dynamics within the concerned society (Yew 52).

Malthus was able to illustrate the validity of the earlier mentioned idea mathematically, therefore there is nothing odd about the fact that throughout the first part of the 20th century the Malthusian outlook on the humanity’s grim future (due to overpopulation) used to be shared by many prominent intellectuals/social activists of the time. In this respect, we can well mention the name of Margaret Sanger – one of the early proponents of birth control and eugenics as the instruments of ensuring a high biological quality of a nation.

According to Sanger, the birth-control policies, enacted by the government, cannot be solely concerned with addressing the dangers of overpopulation. Rather, they should reflect the fact that after having realised themselves in the position to exercise a rationale-fueled control over their destiny, as the representatives of Homo Sapiens species, people are now thoroughly capable of applying a conscious effort into increasing the extent of their evolutionary fitness: “We must first free our bodies from disease and predisposition to disease.

We must perfect these bodies and make them fine instruments of the mind and the spirit” (Sanger 270). Nevertheless, the Germany’s defeat in 1945 has effectively ended the popularity of Sanger’s idea in this respect. The reason for this is that ever since the end of the WW2, the very concept of eugenics had become strongly associated with the notion of ‘Nazism’.

As time went on, more and more Western sociologists were becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there is a link between the rate of fertility, exhibited by a particular society, and the measure of this society’s socio-cultural advancement. Such awareness on their part became the conceptual premise, upon which the proponents of neo-Malthusianism base their view on what accounts for the actual significance of what happened to be the spatially localized rate of people’s self-reproduction.

This premise is concerned with the assumption that unlike what it happened to be the case with people who reside in large cities, the well-being of rural dwellers overwhelmingly depends on how successful they are while tending crops. Hence, the explanation to the phenomenon of the rurally-based people’s high fertility: by conceiving as many babies, as possible, these people simply try to survive physically, as even young children can be well turned into the agricultural helpers.

In its turn, this implies that the rate, with which people go about ‘making babies’, is consistent with these people’s place on the hierarchical ladder of evolution. The more complex a particular society happened to be, the fewer are there the objective preconditions for the society’s members to preoccupy themselves with procreation.

What is being rarely mentioned in this respect is that in the technologically advanced Western societies, the Darwinian laws of natural selection no longer work, which in turn sets these societies on the path of degradation and extinction. The currently endorsed Western policy of encouraging mentally inadequate citizens to ‘celebrate uniqueness’, even at the expense of allowing them to pass their defective genes to the representatives of next generations, illustrates the validity of the earlier suggestion perfectly well.

Partially, the above-mentioned provides us with the insight into the causes of the recent rise of neo-Malthusianism (commonly associated with the name of Paul Ehrlich – the author of The Population Bomb) – a theory that forecasts the eventual collapse of the human civilisation due the effects of overpopulation (Ehrlich 130).

The reason for this is that, as the mentioned book implies, it is not the rising level of poverty (assumed to have been caused by overpopulation) among people in the Third World, which concerns Westerners the most, but rather the fact that while continuing to increase in numbers, the ‘poor and needy’ from these countries will begin to pose an acute danger to the Western civilisation’s continual well-being.

The full soundness of this statement can be well illustrated in regards to the fact that, for example, within the matter of the last sixty years, the population of Ethiopia has tripled, despite the fact that throughout this time Ethiopians continued to suffer from the never-ending civil war and famine.

On the other hand, it is not only that, throughout the course of recent decades, the rate of the White people’s fertility has been reduced down to its all-time minimum, but they have also grown increasingly incapable of addressing even the most basic challenges of life (McArdle 35).

Nevertheless, the apparent biasness of the neo-Malthusian (positivist) assumption that the less there are children ‘per woman’, the better, and that the more there are children in a particular family, the greater is the measure of this family’s technological/cultural backwardness, can also be shown in regards to a number of the assumption’s methodological inconsistencies. For example, there appears to be very little rationale in associating the high rate of fertility with the high rate of illiteracy.

As Motavalli noted: “Education usually does produce smaller families, but there are exceptions. Tanzania had achieved 90 percent female literacy by the early 1990s, but parents in 2002 had an average of 5.3 children” (3). Also, there are no good reasons to believe that the strength of people’s sense of religiosity always positively relates to the strength of their taste for ‘baby making’.

Even though the total rate of fertility (TRF) among religious women in the Second and Third World countries has always been much higher, as compared to the TRF among the perceptually secularized females in the West, as time goes on, there appears to be more and more exemptions from this rule.

The most striking of them is concerned with the phenomenon of the annual birth rate in Iran having been reduced rather drastically throughout the course of the recent decade and a half, despite the fact that just as it was the case fifteen years ago, the Iranian society continues to remain strongly religious (Vahidnia 260).

This explains why it is namely the ‘phenomenological’ outlook on the significance of the fertility rate in a particular society, which nowadays affects the dynamics of the ongoing fertility-related public discourse to an ever-higher degree. According to the advocates of a ‘phenomenological’ sociology, it is utterly inappropriate to refer to the TRF in a particular region of the world as being reflective of the concerned people’s socio-cultural development alone.

For example, according to Bongaarts and Watkins, the essence of the fertility-dynamics in the society cannot be discussed outside of what accounts for the phenomenological subtleties of how the society’s members socialise with each other. As the authors pointed out: “Development alone is insufficient to account for the observed variations in the timing of the onset of transitions (in fertility)…

Before the transition onset, social interaction can inhibit fertility change” (Bongaarts and Watkins 669). Nevertheless, just as it happened to be the case with neo-Malthusians, ‘phenomenologists’ tend to regard the notion of high fertility in largely negative terms.

This stance, is being challenged by the so-called ‘neo-Marxian’ sociologists, who believe that it is namely the workings of the greed-fueled ‘free market’ economy, which legitimise the idea that there can be no ‘room under the Sun’ for all on this planet. According to these sociologists, it is in the very nature of Capitalism (as an economic system that goes about optimizing its functioning by means of reducing the affiliated operational costs) to seek out the ways to have as few people employed, as possible (Malakoff 545).

What it means is that if the Capitalist society continues to function ‘unattended’, it becomes only the matter of time before it begins to exhibit the signs of being demographically stagnant. After all, there is simply no other way for such a society to be able to maintain the adequate standards of living among the citizens, other than by means of preventing them from being able to reproduce in sufficient numbers.

This explains the actual origins of the process of Western societies growing progressively ‘aged’ (Herrmann 28). This is also the reason why the main challenge of Capitalism has always been the overabundance of workers, whereas the Socialism’s main problem has been the permanent shortage of the available workforce.

The above-mentioned suggests that the ‘problem of overpopulation’ cannot be referred to as being thoroughly objective, as it is only Capitalism that creates the situation when, as time goes on, more and more people realize that they represent the world’s ‘human burden’, regardless of the rate of these people’s fertility (Von Eschen 420).

The earlier provided theoretical considerations as to what can be deemed the actual forces behind the fluctuations of the TFR in a particular country should prove rather enlightening within the context of discussing the specifics of the demographic situation in Iran.

The case of Iran

Probably the main feature of the modern history of Iran is the fact that through the years of 1986-1996, the country’s population of 60 million was enlarged by 10 million, hence, becoming to account for 70 million ‘strong’ by the beginning of 1997. In its turn, this implies that the total rate of fertility in Iran throughout the mentioned period was 6 births per woman. However, during the course of the next decade (1996-2006), the Iranian TRF was reduced down to 2.8 births per woman.

Moreover, as time goes on, the total rate of fertility in this country continues to decline rather rapidly: “The own-children estimates of fertility for Iran based on the 2000 Iran Demographic and Health Survey show that the TFR has declined further and reached replacement level (2.26) during the period 1998-2000.

The figure for the year 2000 is 2.17” (Abbasi-Shavazi 425). The main reason behind the earlier mentioned reduction of the TFR in Iran was the fact that ever since 1985, the government started to implement the policy of ‘family planning’, the main objective of which was to slow down the uncontrollable growth of the country’s population. The following is the list of the main factors that contributed towards this particular policy, on the part of the Iranian government, proving itself utterly effective:

a) Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Iranian government never ceased to invest rather heavily in providing the educational opportunities for as many citizens as possible. In this respect, the emphasis was placed on educating women.

In its turn, the increased rate of literacy among Iranian women resulted in the latter becoming secularised to an extent, hence, providing the additional incentives for these women to choose in favor of ‘family planning’. This confirms the validity of the earlier mentioned neo-Malthusian assumption that the rate of people’s literacy positively relates to the extent of their educational accomplishments.

b) The country’s top-ranking clergyman thoroughly supported the government’s fertility-reducing effort. In 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that the use of contraceptives on the part of Iranian citizens is fully consistent with the main theological provisions of Islam.

This, aided the mentioned governmental effort rather substantially, because of the Khomeini’s approval of contraceptives, even the country’s utterly religious citizens were growing emotionally comfortable with the idea of exercising caution, while indulging in the sexual socialisation with each other. There are clearly defined ‘phenomenological’ undertones to it, as the example of Iran indicates, there can be no good reason in believing that the Church always acts as the fertility’s main agent.

c) The implementation of the earlier mentioned fertility-reducing initiative on the part of the Iranian government proceeded hand in hand with the process of the country’s continuous urbanization. It has been estimated that by the year 1996, 60% of the country’s population consisted of urbanites (Abbasi-Shavazi 430).

This established the additional preconditions for the governmental initiative to succeed. After all, as it was pointed out earlier, there are no objective reasons for city dwellers to consider ‘baby-making’ an activity that is crucial to ensuring their very survival, in the physical sense of this word.

d) Through the years 1985-1996, the Iranian economy sustained a number of setbacks. In its turn, this naturally caused the country’s sexually productive citizens to experience a certain psychological anxiety related to the prospect of not being able to secure a well-paid job on their part. Consequently, the rate of reproduction among these people has declined rather dramatically.

In light of the above-mentioned, we can come with suggestions as to what predetermined the essence of the Iranian demographic policies in the recent past, and also as to what will account for the country’s demographic dynamics in the future.

First, the sheer successfulness of the implementation of the ‘family planning’ policy in Iran has been largely predetermined by the essentially authoritarian paradigm of a political rulership in this country. The reason for this is apparent as after having decided to proceed with enacting this policy, the Iranian governmental officials continued to exercise a full control over every consequential phase of the policy’s implementation.

Second, the foremost reason for the Iranian government to choose in favor of implementing the earlier mentioned policy was that, despite being strongly committed to the traditional values of Islam, the Iranian society continues to remain essentially Capitalist. This explains why in the time of peace the Iranian policymakers tend to regard the prospect of the country’s population continuing to boom in terms of a ‘problem’, rather than in terms of an ‘economic asset’.

Third, contrary to what it is being assumed in the West, Iran is not preparing actively for war with America and its allies in the region. Had this been otherwise, the country would have pursued with implementing the aggressive pro-natalist policy, just as it was the case during the course of the Iran–Iraq War (Goldstone 5).

The popularity of the anti-natalist sentiment in today’s Iran can also be explained by the fact that, as time goes on, this country grows increasingly secularised, which reduces the chances for the outbreak of yet another Persian War even further.

Finally, if the current ‘family planning’ policy in Iran remains enacted, in about 20 years from now the country’s economy will face the acute challenge of having to sustain the existence of the exponentially proliferating population of senior citizens.

This challenge will prove especially serious, given the fact that at this time the number of fully employed young Iranians will be severely undercut, as a direct result of the currently implemented ‘family planning’ policy. This implies that in order for Iran to be able to maintain its economic sustainability as an independent country, it will need to put away with the concerned anti-natalist policy.


The earlier provided line of argumentation as to what accounts for the qualitative essence of the ‘neo-Malthusian’, ‘phenomenological’ and ‘neo-Marxian’ approaches to fertility-management and as to what can be considered as the discursive significance of the currently enacted ‘family planning’ policy in Iran, appears thoroughly consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.

Apparently, there can be indeed a very little rationale in believing that the notion of ‘fertility’ is thoroughly objective and that, as such, it is not being affected by the currently predominant socio-cultural discourse. The deployed arguments also imply that the most effective instrument of addressing the problem of overpopulation would be concerned with overthrowing Capitalism on a global scale and with adopting the Socialist methods of managing the population/economy.

Works Cited

Abbasi-Shavazi, Mohammad. Recent Changes and the Future of Fertility in Iran. 2007. Web.

Bongaarts, John and Susan Watkins. “Social Interactions and Contemporary Fertility Transitions.” Population and Development Review 22.4. (1996): 639-682. Print.

Cohen, Joel. “Population and Climate Change.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 154.2 (2010): 158-182. Print.

Ehrlich, Paul. The Population Bomb. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971. Print.

Goldstone, Jack. “Population and Security: How Demographic Change Can Lead to Violent Conflict.” Journal of International Affairs 56.1 (2002): 4-22. Print.

Herrmann, Michael. “Population Aging and Economic Development: Anxietiesand Policy Responses.” Population Ageing 5 (2012): 23–46. Print.

Malakoff, David. “Are More People Necessarily a Problem?” Science 333.6042 (2011): 544-546. Print.

Malthus, Thomas. . 1798. PDF file. Web.

McArdle, Megan. “Europe’s Real Crisis.” The Atlantic Monthly 309.3 (2012): 32-35. Print.

Motavalli, Jim. The Numbers Game. 2003. Web.

Sanger, Margaret. The Pivot of Civilization. New York: Brentano’s, 1922. Print.

Vahidnia, Farnaz. “Case Study: Fertility Decline in Iran.” Population & Environment 28.4/5 (2007): 259-266. Print.

Von Eschen, Donald. “Capitalism and Imperialism: An Introduction to Neo-Marxian Concepts.” Contemporary Sociology 3.5 (1974): 419-421. Print.

Yew, Lee. “Laissez-Faire Procreation.” Foreign Policy 150 (2005): 52-53. Print.

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