Insights: The Political Demography of Iran

Site of the world’s most rapid completion of the fertility transition

Read the background story of Iran’s political demography from the online library of

Israeli demography and politics: The growth of the Ultra-Orthodox

     Rapid growth among the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) sector of Israel’s population has been a two-edged sword for Israel’s right-wing political parties. On one hand, the Haredim’s intensely youthful age structure contributes a larger cohort into the voting-age population with each successive election, yielding an increasingly larger contingent from United Torah Judaism (UJT), a voting list comprised of two Ashkenazi-Haredi parties: Degal HaTorah and Agudat Israel (See a 2013 article, published by FPRI, on the changing demographics of Israeli elections, also available on the FPRI website).

On the other hand, the ever-increasing Haredi voting power and its reflection in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset chafes hard on several of the right-wing and centrist parties (as well as the Knesset’s dwindling Left) and their constituents. Like Avigdor Lieberman’s Party, Yisrael Beitenu (representing immigrants from the former-Soviet Union), these parties are adamant that Haredim young men perform service in Israel’s Defense Force–a duty that is accepted by all other Jewish Israelis (including new immigrants), as well as by many among the Druze and Circassian minorities.

The recent 2019 Knesset election has brought this problem to a head. However, it’s nothing new — “the deal” with the Haredim has been a potential sticking point for right-wing governments for the past decade. Ironically, the Haredim’s sustained high fertility rates guarantee a larger and larger share of right-wing votes, but their presence in government and insistence on special privileges (family subsidies, exemptions from military service, and control of many aspects of Jewish law) has made it increasingly difficult to form a government (see article in Al Monitor by Ben Caspit).

Uncomfortable Companions: Fertility decline and Ideology in Iran

Essay entitled “Uncomfortable Companions” published in the Woodrow Wilson Center’s New Security Beat, March 5, 2018. Also see “Iran in Transition,” Carnegie Endow. Int’l Peace.

It should be an excellent time to be a young Iranian: High school and college enrollments in the Islamic Republic rank near the top of Muslim-majority countries. Women have only about two children on average, compared to 6.5 in the mid-1980s. And childhood mortality is projected to approach North American levels in the next 15 years. Yet, as the recent protests show, many young Iranians feel left out. Job growth—especially for young adults—has failed to keep pace with development, while persistently high rates of inflation steadily drive up the cost of living and cut deeply into Iranians’ savings.

Clearly, young Iranians expect more from their country’s economy. They aren’t alone. In Iran in Transitiona recent report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Karim Sadjadpour and I show that Iran is traversing its demographic window of opportunity—an economically advantageous period marked by small proportions of dependent children and seniors, and a large proportion in the most productive working ages. In fact, Iran’s current worker bulge (Fig. 1, below) rivals those that helped make “economic tigers” out of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and China.

Iran Demographic Pyramid

[To read the entire essay, go to version on the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat]

or download Uncomfortable Companions_ Fertility Decline and Ideology in Iran here. 

Article by Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg View

“Democracy in Iran? The demographics say YES” — but the Regime Type says NO

Bloomberg View (plus Bloomberg Business Week) has published Leonid Bershidsky’s excellent article on age-structural theory.  Clearly, Bershidsky has read through and grasped much of the research (thank you, Leonid!).  Bershidsky uses the theory to discuss recent anti-regime demonstrations in Iran and their outcome, and he neatly summarizes the theory’s predictions and points out its strengths. Notably, he also explores some of the theory’s weaknesses dealing with various types of authoritarian regimes that persist despite the societal changes that are associated with a more mature population and passage through the demographic window.

The article can be viewed at the Bloomberg View website, here.

Bershidsky is right — that aspect of the theory remains weak.  To strengthen it, I’ve been using the Authoritarian Regime Data Set (Hadenius, A., J. Teorell, and M. Wahman. 2012. “Authoritarian Regimes Data Set, version 5.0: Codebook.” Lund, Sweden: Department of Political Science, Lund University).  Putting Hadenius et al.’s regime types into “age-structural time” produces the following hypothetical relationships with population age structure (click on image to enlarge it).


Iran in Transition

Iran in Transition: The Implications of the Islamic Republic’s Changing Demographics

Richard Cincotta & Karim Sadjadpour

December 2017,  Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In the late 1980s, Iran’s revolutionary government deployed a series of contraceptive and counseling services that would become one of the world’s most effective voluntary family planning programs. The country’s total fertility rate—the average number of children an Iranian woman could expect to bear during her lifetime—fell from five and a half at the program’s inception to two children per woman about two decades later. Consequently, Iran has entered an economically advantageous demographic window of opportunity, during which its working-age, taxable population far outnumbers children and elderly dependents. This transition has important implications for the country’s economic and political trajectory, as well as for U.S. policy toward Iran. [read more of the summary]

Go to the online version of Iran in Transition.

Download: Iran in Transition.