Revisiting Iran’s Fertility Transition
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Revisiting Iran’s Fertility Transition

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The total fertility rate in Iran decreased from 6.5 to 2.1 children per woman between 1982 and 2000, becoming one of the fastest fertility transitions in modern times. In an attempt to explain Iran’s fertility transition, previous research has ascribed it to changes in various variables that stem from socioeconomic modernization. Considering the anti-modern nature of Iran’s revolution and the policies implemented after it, I suggest that instead of modernity, it was the adverse socioeconomic conditions that set Iran’s fertility transition in motion. Therefore, those theories that assume modernization results in fertility decline do not apply to this case. Instead, for explaining the observed fertility transition, those models that explain demographic behaviors as an outcome of human decision-making processes based on structural and cultural factors fit better. Using archival, administrative, and survey data, I will demonstrate that framing Iran’s fertility transition after the revolution as a case of modernization is not supported by empirical evidence. The fertility transition in the 1980s transpired while the state promoted and rewarded higher fertility. Furthermore, other social and economic conditions were theoretically in favor of higher natality, yet fertility was dropping at a fast rate. To explain the case at hand, I propose that the fertility transition in Iran should be explained with consideration of the social and economic changes after the revolution. Empirical evidence from archival, administrative, and survey data shows Iranians experienced a multi-faceted social and economic downturn after the revolution that changed the life course of younger generations in a way that made childbearing more difficult. In reaction to post-revolutionary realities emerged a survival culture that contained scripts and frames to cope with the adverse living conditions. Social media content analysis shows this culture's cynical stance toward life in general and its articulated antinatalism. Furthermore, using administrative and ethnographic data, I show that the state housing policies after the revolution caused a spatial re-organization which facilitated the spread of values and norms of the survival culture. Overall, this dissertation contributes to the theoretical debate over demographic action by placing human decision-making at the center, as fertility decline can occur when a society tries to undo its modern economy. Furthermore, it shows the critical role that spatial arrangement plays in behavioral and cultural processes. This study also shows that the social and cultural project of the Islamic Republic has resulted in adverse socioeconomic outcomes, affecting the demographic behavior of Iranians.

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This item is under embargo until December 1, 2028.