Home
In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2007 / 25 Kislev 5768

Iran's future: Would lower fertility rates lead to stability?

By Jonathan V. Last


Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Pennsylvania State University professor Philip Jenkins is a man to be taken seriously. One of America's most thoughtful academics, he is a deep thinker. Two of his books in particular, "The Next Christendom" and "The New Faces of Christianity," are landmark works. In a recent issue of the New Republic, Jenkins makes an intriguing proposition: that the demographic profile of Iran might make the Islamic republic into the "Denmark of tomorrow."

This would be good news. The Middle East could use a Denmark or two (or seven). But an examination of Jenkins' predictions and the history of fertility and demographics suggests that he may be mistaken.

Jenkins makes essentially the following case: Iran has been experiencing a giant decline in fertility rates, from more than 6.5 children being born per woman 30 years ago, to a rate of 1.71 today. This puts Iran below the all-important 2.1, the rate needed to keep population constant. Unless matters change, Iran will begin to experience a population decline within two generations.

No prob, says Jenkins. Population decline, he believes, could "usher in a new era of stability," creating "an Iran that is bourgeois (and) secular." To support this thesis, Jenkins notes that high-fertility nations include hot spots such as Iraq, Somalia and Sudan, while low-fertility nations include countries such as Italy, Germany and Japan.

Jenkins then notes that declining fertility rates lead to smaller extended families, and hence to an increased reliance by the elderly on state support. In the future, he argues, Iranians will be "invested in the state's continued stability." He also sees the lower fertility rate as a boon to Iranian business: "With fewer heirs, you are more likely to spend money on yourself; increased spending buoys the economy; and, suddenly, industry is buzzing away."

Finally, Jenkins argues that the presence of fewer children in Iran will weaken communal, and hence religious, ties, promoting secularism and even helping to make Iranians "more accepting of people who seek options outside of traditional marriage" - by which he means same-sex marriage.

Jenkins ultimately may be right in his assessment, but his reading of the Iranian fertility bust is, at best, optimistic. It seems much more likely that Iran's demographic implosion will lead to instability, conflict and economic collapse.

Let's look first at the structure of Iran's population. With Iran's fertility rate dropping, it currently has what is known as a "youth bulge." Its median age is 25.8, and 23 percent of its males are under the age of 15. The German demographer Gunnar Heinsohn makes a compelling case that such bulges of young men lead historically to military conflict.

But this will be Iran's final youth surplus. By 2050, 30 percent of Iran's population will be composed of elderly dependents, and a dwindling number of younger workers will be forced to support them at their own expense. In wealthy First World countries such as Denmark, this situation leads to discussions about pension benefits and taxes. In poor, developing countries such as Iran, it could well lead to unrest and instability. It is one thing to be old and rich; being old and poor is quite another.

And Iranians have little hope of becoming rich. Oil is, far and away, Iran's leading industry, but its exports are diminishing every year. As soon as 2020, Iran may no longer have an oil-export business. Oil makes for 80 percent of Iran's exports today, according to the CIA World Factbook; the other leading exports are "fruits, nuts and carpets." Its only industries of note are textiles, cement and food processing. Oil revenues equal roughly one-fifth of all personal income in Iran. Once oil disappears, it's unclear how happy, childless Iranian couples will have money to burn. Certainly, no industries even exist in Iran to begin "buzzing away."

Already, Iran's economy is fraying at the seams. In 2002, 40 percent of the population was below the poverty line. The Iranian government's own (rosy) projection puts unemployment at 15 percent (it is likely twice that, and even higher among the volatile youth cohort). Inflation was 12 percent in 2006 and has, by all accounts, risen since.

Iran's government seems to understand the long-term implications of its demographic situation, which is why President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has relocated millions of people from rural villages to cities, where they can be controlled more easily. He has also introduced more comprehensive social services. To be sure, this is an attempt at stability, of a sort. Some would call it a strengthening of authoritarianism.

That's the short-term outlook; the medium term is more unsettling. From a geostrategic perspective, Iran must understand that its weak position will become progressively weaker, leading to ruin. Its only hope lies in the prospect of expansion: Southeast Iraq, Saudi Arabia (where Shiites dominate the oil-rich eastern region), and the United Arab Emirates all present attractive targets for Iran, with ample oil reserves and potentially sympathetic populations. Empire is Iran's most logical path to salvation.

After all, with economic ruin on the horizon, and a demographic catastrophe in progress, they have nothing to lose in a conflict, other than several million military-age young men who, if left to their own devices, might someday turn on the regime in any case. Of course, if Iran were to attempt to establish regional hegemony, it would face the wrath of the United States and the Western powers, much as Saddam did in 1990. Unless they had a nuclear deterrent. When you game it out, Iran would be foolish not to try for nuclear weapons. Its fertility rate and economic reality practically demand it.

And what about Jenkins' hope that lower fertility will, in the long run, make Iran a secularist paradise, like Denmark or Germany? As demographer Philip Longman demonstrated in his essay "The Return of Patriarchy," fertility rates do not fall uniformly across populations. They tend to dip most precipitously among secular, liberal segments, and remain higher among orthodox, religious segments. If this rule were to hold in Iran, it would mean that, in the long run, the population would become more, not less, religious, as secular families dwindle and fundamentalist families flourish in their place.

Demography, we must remind ourselves, is not destiny; but neither can we allow it to become fantasy.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Jonathan V. Last is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.


Previously:

11/01/07 Nobel Prize in Economics — where Team USA still dominates the game
10/25/07 Handicapping the GOP's presidential horse race
10/11/07 Germany's Turks provide a lesson on immigration
09/13/07 British battle can offer us a perspective on casualties
09/12/07 Alas, GOP seems set to take hit in Senate
08/30/07 Europeans have supplanted backbones with capitulation
08/24/07 Politics holds the key to ensuring a healthy growth in population
08/17/07 Finessing the Democratic center
08/10/07 Woohoo! Satire seeing a revival
07/31/07 Historical model: For Obama, it's Carter
07/26/07 Baseball, apple pie, a 2nd chance
07/24/07 Harry Potter and the alchemy theory
07/06/07 Life is hard — and often short. The perils of professional wrestling
06/21/07 After Bush: Gingrich and others worry that his shortcomings could have a far-reaching effect on the GOP
03/09/07 Why the British outclass us in acting
01/23/07 Romney: Seriously great, but with baggage
12/23/06 When truth is transpicuous
12/05/06 A realistic plan: Split the country in two
11/08/06 We could easily pull out of Korea and let China have regional hegemony. But would it be the right thing?
10/24/06 The decline of revolution
10/18/06 Why the free market is king
08/07/06 Democracy, of itself, not solution to all problems
08/01/06 We get the movies we deserve
07/27/06 How long will U.S. empire last?


© 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles