Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scared by sub-replacement birthrate, Iran's supreme leader wants Iranians to reproduce more

Of course, I beat the boys at math!
In the Western mind, Iranians are often viewed as conservative, archaic, traditional... Yet they have one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. At 1.6 births per woman, Iran's birthrate is now lower than that of Britain or France... Bigger surprise still, the dramatic drop happened during the reign of the religious Ayatollahs: it was 6.5 back in 1970, under the highly westernized Shah.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sounded the alarm in a speech last winter, saying he was “shaking with fear” over the “dangerous issue” of population decline and warning officials to begin grappling with it now.

“After a few years, when the current young generation becomes old,” he said, “there will be no cure for that.”

Mr. Khamenei followed that up with a 14-point program, announced late last month, that health officials hope will lead to a doubling of Iran’s population, to 150 million, by 2050. Hospital delivery stays are now free, and women are allowed longer maternity leave. Reversing past policies to control population growth, the government has canceled subsidies for condoms and birth control pills and eliminated free vasectomies.

Billboards in the capital show a laughing father with five children riding a single tandem bicycle up a hill, leaving far behind an unhappy looking father with only one child. Those parents who actually produce five children are now eligible for a $1,500 bonus, not that many here are likely to be tempted.

“When I see those, I wonder, how can that father even smile?” said Hadi Najafi, 25, an unemployed professional soccer player. He said he did not have the money to marry, let alone keep up with rents increasing by 25 percent a year.

“Anybody with a lot of children is either very rich or very irresponsible,” Mr. Najafi said. “There is no other way.”

It looks like a few thousands dollars or some restrictions won't push Iranian fertility up much. The phenomenon, in Iran or elsewhere, is more deeply rooted than what the bureaucrats think. The root cause is modernity itself. As people opt for other worthwhile activities than having babies, they won't be swayed much by abstractions like country, nation, race...

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