Libmonster ID: UK-1365
Author(s) of the publication: A. S. KHODUNOV

A. S. KHODUNOV, Post-Graduate Student, Russian State University for the Humanities

Keywords: demography, political stability, youth, revolution, declining birth rate

The most important event in the demographic sphere of humanity in recent centuries is the transition from traditionally high birth and death rates to low values of these indicators, which may be accompanied by a sharp acceleration in population growth.1 The accelerated growth of the population (and especially of young people) creates a strong tension in the socio-political situation. Against this background, many serious political upheavals have taken place, including revolutions and civil wars with a large number of victims. And this is despite the fact that the economic dynamics may be favorable.

Let's look at these relationships, comparing the situation in Iran and the countries of the "Arab Spring".

In Iran, the demographic transition began in the 1940s and accelerated particularly since the 1950s. Between the 1956 and 1986 censuses alone, Iran's population increased 2.6 times, from 18.95 million to 49.45 million.2 However, by the end of the 1980s, the peak birth rate, and hence the rate of population growth, had passed, and the country began a rapid decline in the birth rate, which some authors call the fastest in the world3.

On the one hand, this is due to factors such as increased urbanisation, increased female literacy and reduced child mortality, which have contributed to a decline in the birth rate worldwide.4 On the other hand, the decline in the birth rate in Iran was strongly influenced by the family planning program introduced in 1989.

In the early to mid-1980s, the Iranian authorities favored high birth rates and encouraged early marriages. Also, during the long war with Iraq (1980 - 1988), older couples gave birth to more children, fearing the death of their sons in the war. The increase in the birth rate (as well as a noticeable improvement in birth registration) was also influenced by the ration system, in which large families received a significant advantage.5 As a result of these measures, the birth rate rose sharply - to 6.8 children per woman in 1984. However, as a result of modernization factors, the birth rate began to decline slowly - to 6.3 in 1986 and 5.5 in 1988.6 although population growth was still high.

In the late 1980s, many senior Iranian officials expressed their concern that the country's economy, which was in a state of crisis, would not be able to cope with the very rapid population growth. After a series of meetings attended by prominent doctors and senior clergy, the main recommendations for the new family planning program were drawn up, which were included in the five-year development plan adopted by the Parliament in 1989.

In 1993, the Law on Family Planning was adopted. The Ministry of Health and Medical Education received the necessary authority and resources to implement the program and started providing contraception to all interested married couples and promoting a small family (2 to 3 children) as a social norm7.

Given the great role of religion in Iranian society, it was very important that family planning was supported by the clergy. The new family planning program significantly increased the impact of modernization factors that influenced the reduction of the birth rate in Iran, and its total coefficient in the 1990s began to fall rapidly: to 2.8 children in 1996, and in 2001 it fell completely below simple reproduction - 2.1 8. Thus, in just 13 years, the birth rate in Iran has almost tripled (Figure 1).

Since the 2000s, the birth rate in Iran has consistently remained below simple reproduction. Although the total fertility rate, according to the World Bank, stopped falling in 2006 and rose in 2011 to 1.91 children per woman, the birth rate continues to be below simple reproduction.9

page 26

Chart 1. Dynamics of the total birth rate in Iran, 1960-2010

Source: World Bank. 2013. World development indicators online -

Figure 2. Share of youth (in %) aged 20-29 years in the adult (over 20 years) population of Iran, 1950-2010, with a forecast to 2050

Source: UN Population Division. 2012. United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division Database. World Population Prospects -


The demographic transition, accompanied by a very rapid decline in mortality and rapid population growth, was typical not only for Iran, but also for most countries in the Middle East and North Africa. 10 A sharp decline in mortality while maintaining the traditionally high birth rate has led to the fact that the vast majority of children born began to live to the working age.

Against this background, many political upheavals have taken place. In the Middle East and North Africa, such upheavals include the bread riots in Egypt in 1977, the political upheavals in Syria in 1982, the civil war in Algeria in 1992-2002, 11 and, most recently (since 2011), revolutions and social explosions in Arab countries. 12. In Iran itself, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 belongs to this series of events.

All of these shocks have occurred against the backdrop of a long-term trend of declining mortality, rising living standards and consumption, ending hunger, and in some cases reaching the level of overeating.

The rapid growth of young people against the backdrop of urbanisation played an important role in such shocks, which led to the concentration of a large number of young people in cities, and a large number of young people could not find well-paid work (and often even work at all)13. In particular, in the Arab Spring countries, there was a very high proportion of youth aged 15-30 (30-50%), and young people were quite highly educated, which increased their dissatisfaction with their situation. 14

In particular, rural migrants, mostly young people, played a major role in the Islamic Revolution in Iran, as they moved intensively to the cities during the rapid economic growth in the first half of the 1970s. They expected their situation to improve, but were unable to adapt to the new urban conditions and faced serious economic difficulties. Many of them were forced to take unskilled jobs, and a significant part became unemployed.15

Of course, the causes of the Islamic Revolution cannot be reduced to those of the Islamic Revolution.

page 27

Other political upheavals in the Middle East in recent decades have only led to a sharp increase in the number of young people. There were many other important factors in these political upheavals, in addition to the demographic factor, but the demographic factor had a very big impact on these events.

For example, in Iran, the extremely uneven distribution of income, the deterioration of the situation of the working population in the last years of the Shah's rule, mass repressions, and the discontent of a significant part of the population with the country's Westernization course and pro-Western policy played a huge role.16

In this regard, it is necessary to consider the dynamics of demographic and economic indicators that affect the political stability of Iran after the Islamic revolution in order to determine how high the risk of political destabilization in this country is.

There is an important indicator that indicates the potential threat of political instability: the proportion of young people aged 20-29 in the adult population (figure 2). The dangerous level usually begins when this proportion is about 30%17.

In Iran, after 1970, the proportion of young people of this age began to grow rapidly and reached a maximum value of 37.5% in 1980. By 1995, it had fallen to 34.2%, and then by 2005 it rose again to 37.6%, but then resumed its decline and amounted to 35.6% in 2010. In 2015, the proportion of 20 - to 29-year-olds will be 28.9%, and after 2020 it will not exceed 20%, falling far below the dangerous level.

For comparison, in the countries most affected by the Arab Spring, by 2010 the proportion of young people of this age was: in Egypt-32.3%, in Tunisia-28.6%, in Syria-36.6%, and in Yemen -41.9% 18. There were no major political upheavals in Iran. The reasons for this will be discussed in more detail below.

The dynamics of the share of young people since the beginning of this decade does not threaten the political stability of Iran, including in the long term. On the contrary, until recently, this dynamic was rather unfavorable for political stability. For example, in 2005, the proportion of young people aged 20-29 reached a very high level, which coincided with the value reached on the eve of the Islamic Revolution.

Youth unemployment also remained high, especially in urban areas. From 1997 to 2008, unemployment among men aged 20-29 years increased from 17.6% to 23.4% (including those with higher education - from 18.2% to 22.4%), and among women - from 16.9% to 46.3% (for those with higher education - from 18.5% to 52.6%).19.

The Arab Spring countries also experienced high levels of youth unemployment, especially among women. Youth unemployment of 15-24 years in Tunisia in 2005 was 31.4% for men and 29.2% for women, in Egypt in 2010-14.8% for men and 54.6% for women were unemployed, in Syria in 2010-15.3% and 40.2%, respectively, and in Yemen-27.9% and 43.4 %20.


Despite the similarity of Iran's structural and demographic risks with the countries of the "Arab Spring", after the revolution and the stabilization of the political regime, Iran has not experienced significant political upheavals with a large number of victims since the early 1980s.

The most serious episode of political instability in the last three decades was the mass protests of those dissatisfied with the results of the presidential election in Iran in June 2009. But they did not last long - most of the protests took place between June 13 and 30, and by 2010, the majority of the protests were held in the period from June 13 to June 30. they almost came to naught 21. The death toll, according to the opposition, was 72 people, and according to the version of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - 28 people.22 The protests of 2009, despite their very high intensity, failed to have a significant impact on the stability of the regime, unlike the demonstrations during the Islamic Revolution. In February 2011, at the height of the "Arab Spring", opposition protests took place in Iran, but they were much weaker not only compared to Arab countries, but also to Iran in 2009.23

How can one explain the long-term political stability in Iran in comparison with the countries of the region caught up in revolutions, with similar structural and demographic factors?

It can be assumed that the stability was promoted by the peculiarities of social policy in Iran. But if we compare Iran with countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, and consider important social indicators of poverty and inequality (according to data for 2005-2010), it turns out that the situation in these three countries is very similar. Extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day) is almost eliminated everywhere (it remains at the level of 1-2%), and in terms of more moderate poverty (the share of people with an income of less than $2 a day: from 4% in Tunisia to 15% in Egypt), these three countries are among the most prosperous developing countries. The level of inequality (the Ginny index ranges from 30.8 in Egypt to 38.3 in Iran)is quite moderate by world standards. 24

With regard to subsidies, Iran had a well-developed subsidy system in place from the early 1980s until the end of 2010, when it began to expand-

page 28

gradually cancel 25. A number of basic necessities were subsidized, including electricity, fuel, and basic foodstuffs such as bread, sugar, and vegetable oil. Although subsidies were greatly reduced during the 1990s, the level of subsidies continued to be very significant, primarily for wheat, the main product in the Iranian diet - 84%26. In December 2010, prices for these goods increased several times, but the state tried to mitigate the consequences of the abolition of subsidies by providing monetary assistance to families (with the exception of the richest). These payments not only significantly offset the price increase, but also helped improve the living standards of the poorest categories of Iranians and reduced the level of inequality in the country.27

By comparison, Egypt also has a subsidy system that covers the vast majority of the population, which contributes to the complete elimination of hunger and malnutrition.28

In Tunisia, under President Z. A. Ben-Ali, a system of social protection was established, aimed primarily at improving the welfare of the poor. A special National Solidarity Fund was opened, which is formed from donations from individuals and organizations, funds from which are directed to various social projects and the development of backward regions. Thanks to poverty reduction, the promotion of private capital, and thoughtful economic reforms, the middle class made up the majority of the country's population. Overall, Tunisia was one of the most prosperous Arab and African States in terms of living standards and economic development.29

One of the important factors that triggered the "Arab Spring" and increased the socio-demographic tension in the Arab countries is also considered to be the explosive increase in food prices - the so-called agflation. Its first wave in the XXI century occurred in 2008, the second-in 2010-2011.

During each wave, food prices rose sharply in a short time.30 These countries have to import a significant part of their food, and as a result of the sharp increase in the price of imported food, a significant number of people in the Arab world have very quickly fallen below the poverty line, and many of them have joined the revolutionary movement.31 Thus, the system of subsidies and assistance to the poor still failed to prevent revolutions in Arab countries.

At the same time, Iran, like the Arab countries, is heavily dependent on food importation32, but agflation has not had a significant impact on political stability here. In 2011, this could be explained by the fact that there was a significant increase in the income level of poor Iranians as a result of the subsidy reform, which completely blocked the increase in food prices.

On the other hand, the performance in 2009 was accompanied by a strong increase in food prices (by 50-100% for some food products), which was not offset by an increase in incomes.33 Moreover, in Iran, which is very dependent on oil sales, the global financial crisis led to economic stagnation in 200934. Thus, Iranians in 2008 - 2009 suffered more from rising prices than residents of Arab countries in 2010-2011. But even against such a crisis background, mass protests of those dissatisfied with the election results did not lead to instability. Thus, the social policy factor is not sufficient to explain the stability of the political system in Iran.

But there is another important political factor, which, apparently, should be linked to the stability of the political situation in this country: the high level of development of democracy (although limited to the highest clergy) and the legitimacy of the political system. Power in Iran is divided into religious and secular bodies that are democratically elected, which helps maintain balance within the system and helps smooth out conflicts and contradictions within the government.35 There is an inter-elite conflict in Iran, but it has not led the country to a serious crisis.36

In the more than 30 years since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian political system has shown an ability to evolve. During this time, the country has developed a multiparty system, liberalized and strengthened the role of the market in the economy, and the role of secular elements in the country's governance has increased. At the same time, much attention is paid to ensuring social justice 37.

In contrast to the Arab Spring countries, the presidential elections in Iran are highly competitive, and the election results are completely unpredictable.38 Popular support for the Islamic regime and the ability to influence political processes contribute to a high level of public participation in elections.

For example, in the last presidential election in 2013, in which X won a convincing victory. Rouhani, considered a more moderate politician than Ahmadinejad, received 73% of the country's population39. For comparison, in Egypt, under Mubarak, the first alternative presidential election in 2005, the turnout was only 23%40. This means that about 80% of people refused to participate in the elections, because they believed that they would not be able to change the situation in the country with their vote.

page 29

* * *

Thus, the example of Iran shows that even with serious demographic pressure and a high proportion of young people in the population, the country can remain stable even with unfavorable economic dynamics due to the presence of effectively functioning democratic institutions and a high level of legitimacy of the political regime.

In the Arab Spring countries, democratic institutions were not sufficiently developed, and this was a very important factor in their destabilization. This is confirmed by the example of Latin America. In the early and mid-1990s, there was also a high proportion of young people, but as a result of democratization, the political situation there was stable at that time41.

However, the factor of democratization is also not absolute, as well as demographic, and in some cases shocks occur despite the presence of democracy. For example, despite developed democratic institutions, political upheavals occurred in 2013-2014 in Ukraine, as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Thailand.42

Korotaev A.V., Khalturina DA . Sovremennye tendentsii mirovogo razvitiya. M, 2009 (in Russian) 1 Sovremennye tendentsii mirovogo razvitiya. M, Modern trends of World Development, Moscow, Librocom/URSS. 2009, pp. 7-10 (Korotaev A.V., Khalturina DA. Sovremennye tendentsii mirovogo razvitiya. M, 2009)

2 Natayej-ye kolli-ye sarshomari-ye omumi-ye nofus-o maskan -1385 (Results of the General Population and Housing Census 1385 (2006)). Tehran, Statistical Center of Iran. 2009, p. 37.

Abbasi-Shavazi M.J., McDonald P., Hosseini-Chavoshi M. 3 The Fertility Transition in Iran: Revolution and Reproduction. New York, Springer. 2009, p. 1.

Bongaarts J. 4 Completing the Fertility Transition in the Developing World: The Role of Educational Differences and Fertility Preferences // Population Studies. 2003. Vol. 57, p. 321-335; Korotaev A.V., Khalturina D. A. Edict. soch., p. 20.

Abbasi M.J. [et al.]. 5 Revolution, war and modernization: population policy and fertility change in Iran // Journal of population research. 2002. Vol. 19, N 1, p. 25 - 46.

Voronov S. S. Some political and economic components of the 2006 General Population Census of Iran - http://www.nmes. ru/rus/stat/2006/31 - 10 - 06.htm

Abbasi M.J. [et al.]. 7 Op. cit.

Voronov S. S. 8 Decree. Op.

9 World Bank. 2013. World development indicators online -

10 Ibidem.

Korotaev A.V. 11 (et al.). Laws of history. Mathematical modeling and forecasting of global and regional development. 3rd ed., sushch. pererab. and add. M., LKI / URSS. 2010, pp. 159-180 (Korotaev A.V. [et al.]. Zakony istorii. Matematicheskoe modelirovanie... M., 2010) (in Russian); Goldstone J. Population and Security: How Demographic Change Can Lead To Violent Conflict // Journal of International Affairs. 2002. Vol. 56, N 1, p. 3 - 22.

Seregin O. 12 HSE Conflict Forecast: Where to expect the "next Syria" -

Korotaev A.V. 13 (et al.). Edict. soch., pp. 197-207.

Vasiliev A.M. 14 Tsunamis of revolutions / / Asia and Africa today. 2011, N 3. (Vasilyev A.M. Tsunami revolyutsiy // Aziya i Afrika segodnya. 2011, N 3) (in Russian)

Kamrava M. 15 Revolution in Iran: The Roots of Turmoil. London, 1990, p. 14.

16 The Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979 Prichiny i uroki [Reasons and Lessons], Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1989.

Grinin L. E., Korotaev A.V. 17 Cycles, crises, traps of the modern World-System. Research of Kondratieff, Juglar and Secular Cycles, Global Crises, Malthusian and Post-Malthusian Traps, Moscow, Librocom / URSS. 2012, p. 288 (Grinin L. E., Korotaev A.V. Tsikly, krizisy, lovushki sovremennoi Mir-Sistemy. M., 2012) (in Russian)

18 Ibid.

Salehi-Isfahani D. 19 Iranian Youth in Times of Economic Crisis - isis.pdf

20 World Bank. 2013. World development indicators online...

Filin N. A. 21 Dynamics of mass protests in the Islamic Republic of Iran (1989-2010) - see: System monitoring of global and regional risks: Arab Spring 2011 (ed.

A. V. Korotaev, Yu. V. Zinkina, A. S. Khodunov). Moscow, LKI / URSS, 2012, pp. 334-377.

Mesamed V. 22 Iran: Repressions against opposition figures-http://www.e-ices.Org/russian/publications/textid:1241/

23 Anti-government rally held in Tehran, there are dead and wounded -

24 World Bank. 2013. World development indicators online...

Mansoori Z. 25 Why the Iranian monetization of benefits failed - t-909172.xhtml

Ulchenko N. Yu., Mamedova N. M. 26 Osobennosti ekonomicheskogo razvitiya sovremennykh moslemskikh gosudarstv (na primere Turkii i Irana) [Features of the economic development of modern Muslim states (on the example of Turkey and Iran)]. 2006, с. 187 (Ulchenko N.Yu., Mamedova N.M. Osobennosti ekonomicheskogo razviriya sovremennykh musulmanskikh gosudarstv. M., 2006) (in Russian)

Salehi-Isfahani D. 27 The impact of Iran's subsidy reform on households: Evidence from survey data - salehi/Iransubsidy_v.3.pdf

Zinkina Yu., Korotaev A. 28 The Egyptian Revolution of 2011: Structural and demographic analysis - 03/04/egyrev/

Zudina L. P. 29 Voprosy bolstering vnutrennoi bezopasnosti: sotsial'nyi aspekt (opyt Tunisa) [Issues of strengthening internal security: a social aspect (the Tunisian experience)]. Issue 27 [comp. A. O. Filonik]. Moscow, 2006, pp. 264-272. (Zudina L. P. Voprosy ukrepleniya vnutrennei bezopasnosti: sotsialny aspect (opyt Tunisa) / / Blizhniy Vostok i sovremennost. Vol. 27. M., 2006) (in Russian)

30; www.fao. org/fileadmin/templates/worldfood/Reports_anddocs/Foodprice_ind ices data_deflated.xls

Korotaev A. V. 31 The origins and meaning of the Arab Revolution -

Ulchenko N. Yu., Mamedova N. M. 32 Edict. soch., p. 187.

Ter-Oganov N. K. 33 Economic situation in Iran - - 05 - 08a.htm

34 World Bank. 2013. World development indicators online...

Dunaeva E. V., Mamedova N. M. 35 Features of the formation of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran - - 02-11.htm

Filin N. A. 36 Inter-elite conflict in Iran

Druzhilovsky S. B. 37 Iran: evolutsiya "islamskoi modeli razvitiya" // Politiya, 2007, N 4 (in Russian)

Filin N. A. 38 Each of the candidates for the post of President of Iran has a chance to win - obed-3974/

Pchelnikov L. 39 Reformer Rouhani elected President of Iran -

Mamedzade P. N. 41 On the results of the first alternative presidential elections in Egypt - - 05.htm

Korotaev A. 41 Arab spring - 10/arabskaya_vesna/

Goldstone J. 42 Protests in Ukraine, Thailand and Venezuela: What unites them? - m


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A. S. KHODUNOV, IRAN: POLITICAL AND DEMOGRAPHIC DEVELOPMENT AS A FACTOR OF STABILITY AND SHOCKS // London: British Digital Library (ELIBRARY.ORG.UK). Updated: 08.11.2023. URL: (date of access: 24.05.2024).

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