Population ageing is a phenomenon affecting countries across the globe. In some communities, so striking is the demographic trend that it has come to be known as the “Silver Tsunami”.
Few states but the Islamic Republic, however, configure a high proportion of over-60s as a national security issue. The National Defense University has dedicated a full article to the problem problem in the latest issue of its journal, Strategic Management Quarterly.
Population Ageing in Iran: The National Picture
In 2015, according to official statistics, more than 10 percent of the population of Iran was aged over 60. This is currently projected to increase to 33 percent by 2050.
The first alarm bells over Iran’s ageing population were sounded in 2006, when an annual fertility rate of 1.8 percent per woman was recorded. The 2011 census put it at 1.6 percent, indicating a declining trend that has panicked officials all the way up to the Supreme Leader.
Every year, the imbalance grows. Experts are now beginning to predict that in the next two decades, Iran will begin to experience negative population growth for the first time. In all the various scenarios projected, this is set to happen by 2051 at the latest.
It is also expected that if and when this happens, the rate of population decline in rural areas will be much faster than that of urban zones. Coupled with an increase in life expectancy, it is feared that within decades the retired population could outnumber the working population. By 2031, 25 to 30 percent of Iranians are expected to be aged 50 or above.
Defense University Study: Population Ageing will Change Everything
The spring 2021 issue of National Security Quarterly featured an article entitled Explaining the Impact of Population Ageing on Iran’s National Security, which was prepared by no fewer than 50 faculty members at the National Defense University.
In it, the researchers pointed out that between 1956 and 2016 the median age in Iran had increased from 19 years (below average) to over 30 (above average). Much of this can be attributed to modernization, developments and economic improvements in the country, which have lengthened people’s lives.
But the study also drew attention to stark inequalities within Iran and low birth rates, with the population ageing more notably in cities than in rural areas. In addition, the contributors said, a rapid population ageing rate could lead to huge economic and social challenges in the future.
Among the possible outcomes, they warned, were a shrinking of the labor force, lower incomes and slower development, as well as less innovation and an increase in the financial burdens on the young. The decline in the working population, it was posited, would lead to fewer people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families, leading in turn to more crime. In addition, they predicted, the demand for specialist medications would rise.
With less money and human resources at its disposal, the authors warned that Iran could face a future decline in global bargaining power. Simultaneously, fewer people would be serving in the military at a given time, weakening the country’s defense capabilities.
Two years ago, the same journal had published a different article entitled Alternative Futures of the Aging Population of Iran in which researchers examined how the “Silver Tsunami” could impact different sectors of the Iranian economy. This article concluded that the country would be less productive and innovative on the whole, care costs for the elderly would rise and tax revenues would decrease.
The study also said that in Iran, the elderly were considered "economic and political burdens" who threatened not only the prospects for growth in Iran, but also the political country's political stability.