The World

Iran’s Baby Bust

More room on the swings.

Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

The AP reports that after years of aggressively promoting contraception and vasectomies, the Iranian government has reversed course and is pushing Iranians to have more babies:

As part of a plan to encourage Iranians to have more children, the Iranian parliament approved a bill that allows the government to increase maternity leaves to nine months from six months and to give fathers a two-week leave. Iran’s constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, made it a law in July. Government officials also have discussed offering gold coins to newborns.

Iran has experienced the fastest drop in fertility ever recorded since the early 1980s, from 3.6 children per couple to just 1.76 today. This is the second time the Islamic Republic has reversed course on this. In the 1980s the government was pro-natalist amid the devastating war against Iraq. Then with fears in the late 1980s that the economy could not support a rapidly growing population, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa making birth control widely available and religiously acceptable. (Abortion is illegal in most cases, though tens of thousands of illegal abortions are thought to take place each year.)

According to the U.N. Population Division, “this has pushed the median age of Iranians to 27.1 years in 2010, up from 20.8 years in 2000.” The median age could reach 40 by 2030 if current trends continue.

As the Los Angeles Times pointed out last year, one positive ramification of the falling birthrate has been more opportunities for women to fill positions that might otherwise have gone to men. Female students now outnumber males 65 percent to 35 percent in public universities, for instance, leading some to call for affirmative action for men.

This could, of course, be one other reason why the Guardian Council is so anxious to get birthrates back up.