Tyranny of numbers

Iran’s changing demography and the 2017 presidential election

Posted in General by Djavad on May 14, 2017

We are told that the state of the economy does not favor Rouhani’s re-election.  The recession is over but ordinary people do not feel it: unemployment is up as was poverty (at least until a year ago).  Inflation is down, which is a big deal but they do not seems to care.  In any case, people confuse lower inflation with lower prices, which Rouhani had never promised.  They also did not understand that when government spends less to bring down inflation, it also slows down the rate of increase in wages.  Money illusion affects people in more advanced countries as well, though Iranians have a more from case of it because productivity is not the first thing that comes to their minds when they think about living standards.  Instead, they think of the country’s great national wealth under the ground, which a good government would distribute better.  In any case, can you blame them for expecting that lower inflation would mean higher income if the economic media equated inflation with loss of real income as they did while they were busy criticizing Ahmadinejad?

Demography may be less consequential than economics for this election, but it offers a more precise picture of where we are.  The most recent population census taken last fall shows the age structure of the population and the sizes of the different cohorts who will be voting in this election.  The single-age pyramid for 2016 below shows clearly the unusually large cohorts of the baby boomers (born in the early years of revolution who are now in their late 20s and early 30s) who have moved up into the voting age range since 2006.

Figure: The age structure of Iran’s population 2006-2016

Source: Statistical Center of Iran, national censuses of population.

Because of their size, these cohorts have a noticeable effect on Iran’s social and political landscape.  As this “youth bulge” moves up the age ladder, it pushes the median age up and is some sense matures the population more rapidly than one would expect.  For example, since 2006, about when Ahmadinejad was first elected, the median age has increased from 24 to 31 today.  By way of comparison, the median age in Afghanistan is 19 and in the US, where the median age is 38, it has increased by less than one year in ten years.

The median voter age has also increased, from 33 to 37 (again, by comparison, this is 45 in the US).  Whereas in 2006 youth voters under 34 were the majority voters, today they are not.  Voters are maturing and are likely to pay more attention to economic programs of the presidential candidates than how they would deal with social freedoms.

In terms of the number of votes, youth are declining in significance.  The youngest cohorts of voters (aged 18-24) were 24% of all voters in 1996, when President Mohammad Khatami was first elected, but fell to 20% in 2006 and to 14% in 2016.  The share of the 18-29 age group, which had been stable at around 40% in 1996 and 2006, has fallen to 29% in 2016.

These age groups happen to be those with the greatest rates of unemployment, which has gotten worse over time.  According to survey data, in 2015/16, a shocking 31% of men and 53% of women aged 18-29 were unemployed, compared to 20% and 19% in 1997.  More importantly, the pain of this worsening situation is increasingly felt by older age groups.  Entire families are affected when their young men and women are unable to find employment, housing, and form a family.  In 2015/16, 82% of men and 55% of women in this age group lived with their parents.  Difficulty in finding a job and housing means staying single as well:  In 2015/16, 76% of men and 49% of women 18-29 had never married.

So, the economy — especially jobs, housing, and marriage– is on the minds of voters of all ages, more so than in the past.  The fact that candidates are not offering clear programs to deal with these problems must be frustrating for voters who are patiently using the ballot box to find solutions.

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17 Responses

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  15. Saman said, on May 14, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Would you please share the source for age pyramid?

    • Djavad said, on May 15, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      You can download the data from the SCI website, under سرشمارى

  16. Farid said, on May 14, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Djavad thinks and writes like a rational person . The only characteristic that the Iranian regime does not have nor understands. This regime is still waiting and promises of the return of the vanished Imam to come back and save the world !


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