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Why are young Iranians losing interest in marriage?

Societal and economic factors have led to a decline in marriage rates, despite the government's desire to see an increase in population.
An Iranian couple sit on the bank of Zayandeh roud river, which was completely dry in recent years, in the historic city of Isfahan some 400 kms south of the capital, Tehran, on April 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI        (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite Iranian leaders' desire to increase the marriage rate and population, the latest statistics published by the National Organization for Civil Registration and the Ministry of Youth and Sports indicate that men and women have less interest in getting married while the divorce rate has risen.

Ali Akbar Mahzoon, chairman of the Information and Statistics Department of the National Organization for Civil Registration, said in an interview May 6 with Mehr News Agency that Iran has more than 11 million unmarried youths in marriage age range. In Iran, the customary marriage age range is 20-34 for men and 15-29 for women. According to the information provided by Mahzoon, 46% of men and 48% of women in those age ranges remain unmarried.

Mahzoon said the marriage rate has declined in the last 3½ years — down 1.9% in 2012, 5.1% in 2013, 6.7% in 2014 and 7.2% in the first months of 2015.

A University of Tehran sociology professor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al-Monitor that the youths' reduced interest in marriage stems in part from the "living condition of Iranian youths born in the 1980s and 1990s. Economic and cultural middle classes of society have experienced astronomical growth in technology and freedom in social relationships. Therefore, the youth have more opportunities to engage in romantic and sexual relationships while they are single. They are not willing to lose these opportunities by committing themselves to marriage."

From 2005 to 2014, the percentage of unmarried men older than 35 increased from 6.7% to 10.2%. In the same period, the percentage of unmarried women over 30 rose from 6.3% to 13.8%.

The professor is not surprised by the decreased marriage rate from 2011 to 2014. "After commencement of international sanctions against Iran, which coincided with severe mismanagement in [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's administration, the country's economy deteriorated, the inflation rate exceeded 30% and the unemployment rate increased drastically. Youths from middle classes could not get married in this situation. A government can think about the youth's mental issues only when real barriers such as economic decline and unemployment are overcome. Otherwise, any attempt is like trying to carry water in a sieve."

Mahmoud Golzari, the head of the Deputy for Youth Affairs of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, said on May 5, "We should improve society's attitude toward marriage. We should perform this task using all our cultural tools such as films, books, press, media and even music. Unfortunately, we do not have proper books and cultural products in this field."

The sociology professor told Al-Monitor, "Mr. Golzari has oversimplified the problem. Does he really think that writing books will solve the marriage problem while economic problems are still in place?"

While the number of marriages ranged between 870,000 and 890,000 from 2007 to 2011, it decreased to 820,000 in 2012 and 770,000 in 2013.

Manouchehr, a 28-year-old civil engineer who lives in the Poonak neighborhood of western Tehran, told Al-Monitor that unstable employment and high rents prevent him from getting married. "Currently, I live with my parents," he said. "I do not pay rent. I can go on a date with my girlfriend in a cafe or at a party. Why should I make myself miserable by getting married? I do not want to torture myself nor the poor girl. People get married to become stable and find peace, not to suffer from low income."

A plummeting marriage rate concerns the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who advocates population growth policies.

On July 24, 2012, Ayatollah Khamenei said in a meeting with state officials that authorities should have dropped population control policies after 1992. In those days, he showed concern that continuing population control policies would result in "growth in elderly population and eventually population decline." He asked authorities to encourage families to have more than two children so that the country's population reaches 150 million to 200 million.

In May 2014, he formally notified the Hassan Rouhani administration on the country's population policies, which urged "removing marriage barriers, decreasing marriage age."

Meanwhile, the divorce rate has also increased.

Statistics published by the National Organization for Civil Registration shows that the divorce rate has continually increased from 2006 to 2013. The number of divorces was 94,039 in 2006, which showed a 65% increase in 2013 by reaching 155,369.

"Divorce rate and willingness to remain unmarried may increase as a result of the same mental and economic factors," the sociology professor said. "Technological growth has increased opportunities for married people to engage in sexual relationships outside their marriage, which is a reason for divorce. In addition, severe economic hardships make married people exhausted. These two factors played a significant role in the increasing divorce rate in recent years."

Although the Rouhani administration has published statistics on marriage and divorce rates, it has not presented its economic and cultural policies to affect those issues. It seems the Rouhani administration has concluded that there is not much to do regarding economic and cultural issues such as marriage and divorce, until a stable economy is established. 

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