From the green protests in 2009–2010 to the election of reformer Hassan Rouhani as president, young Iranians are increasingly powerful.
Expert Robin Wright has called them “the determinators” — politically savvy, socially sassy, and media astute. They count, quite literally, as never before.
1. Two-thirds of Iran is under 35 years old.
They are two-thirds of Iran’s population and over half the electorate.
They put new President Hassan Rouhani into office. Now they’re his biggest headache, as he has to deliver on his promises and their hopes.
2. They love rap music.
Ayatollah Khomeini banned all music as “Westoxication.” But for the young today, rap is the rhythm of dissent.
Hip-hop artists hold back little in warnings to the regime, as Yas, Iran’s leading hip-hop artist, defiantly rapped:
“Listen to my words and see the agonies I suffered
What my generation has seen, made our tears fall
Those without such pains — how they saw ours,
They became even more cruel, what a pity for our land!”
3. They’re the first generation born after the 1979 revolution.
Now in their twenties and early thirties, they knew neither the monarchy nor the revolution.
They were tots when revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989.
4. They’re pushing cultural boundaries further than any time since the 1979 revolution.
For males, the stereotype of their parents’ generation was a young man sporting a headband that vowed martyrdom to Islam. Today, the image may be performing parkour.
5. …Including when it comes to fashion.
Among females, the old stereotype was a woman shrouded in black chador. Today, young designers have added flash, flare, and bold color to fashion.
6. They’re well educated.
Literacy has almost doubled since the revolution — to over 95%, even among females.
Iran won a United Nations award for reducing the gender gap (thought things are still far from equal). So the young are among the best educated and most skilled in the Middle East.
7. Like their Western counterparts, young adults in Iran struggle with joblessness.
One of the theocracy’s biggest successes — the boom of post-revolution babies — is now a vulnerability, as the economy can’t absorb the influx of young, well-educated workers.
Officially, up to 30% of the young are jobless; unofficially, it may be closer to 50%. Iran’s new president acknowledged in June that 4 million university graduates were jobless.
8. They’re in no hurry to get married.
The median age in Iran is 27, but vast numbers can’t afford to marry or move out of their parents’ homes.
One-third of females and half of males between 20 and 34 are now unmarried, according to the Statistical Center of Iran.
9. Young Iran’s frustration is reflected in soaring drug use.
The State Welfare Organization reported this year that almost 72% of Iran’s drug addicts are between 18 and 25.
10. The post-1979 generation are Iran’s baby boomers.
Iran’s post-revolution generation is the largest baby boom in Iran’s 5,000-year history. Its twentysomethings were born during a decade-long blip between two ambitious family-planning programs. During his final decade in office, the shah promoted birth control use. By the end of the 1970s, 37% of women practiced family planning.
After the 1979 revolution, the ruling clerics reversed course and called on Iranian women to breed an Islamic generation. In a decade, the country’s population almost doubled (from 34 to 62 million). But the theocracy couldn’t feed, cloth, house, educate, or eventually employ swelling numbers — and voters. So it launched a free birth control program, including required family planning classes for newlyweds. By the 1990s, the average family fell from six children to less than two — lower than during the monarchy.
From New Security Beat: “Following the 1979 revolution… half of the population lived in rural areas, which typically constrains access to health services. In addition, abortion was illegal in most circumstances. According to the UN, Iranian women had an average of 6.5 children each in the early 1980s and the population was growing nearly four percent annually, a rate high enough for it to double in 19 years. But, by the early 2000s, Iran’s fertility rate had dropped below two children per woman.”
By actuarial standards, Iran’s baby boomers will have disproportionate clout for at least the next half century on most aspects of Iranian life. Politically, their impact could even be more enduring than the current ruling theocrats.
11. They are politically active.
The determinators may not protest on the streets, as they did after the disputed 2009 election. But can make or break politicians.
Their energy turned the 2013 presidential campaign around in the final days, boosting Rouhani to a come-from-behind victory over five other candidates.
12. They have an active, often snarky, online community.
As the region’s largest network of bloggers, they boldly diss the 1979 Revolution, daring to post criticism, jibes, jokes, and political cartoons on banned social media through circuitous routes.
GIF created by using the Interactive Persian blogosphere map at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
13. They want Iran to adopt a new way of thinking.
Sixty percent of the young surveyed said Iran needs to adopt new ways of thinking. One-third of those between the ages of 16 and 25 said they would abandon the Islamic Republic if given the option, reports an Intermedia Youth Publics poll.