Iran Social Structure
Iran, with around 80 million residents (Iranian sources tend to give somewhat higher figures, American sources, however, often somewhat lower ones) is one of the 20 most populous countries in the world (49.29 residents / km²). The population growth is about 1.1%. Iranian society is far more heterogeneous than the official state doctrine would lead you to believe: Only about 51% of Iranians are Persians. Then there is the ethnic group of the Azeris with 24% of the total population, around 8% Gilakis and Mazanderanis, 7% Kurds, 3% Arabs, and around 2% each of Turkmen, Lurs and Baluch. The figures mentioned in this regard vary considerably and should always be treated with caution. Especially in times when the dissatisfaction of the ethnic minorities is increasing, they like to correct the proportion of Persians in the total Iranian population downwards and their own upwards. In addition, there are many refugees living in the country, of which the Afghani continue to make up the largest group with around two million, followed by Iraqi. Overall, Iran is one of the largest host countries for refugees in the world. Iran’s ethnic minorities tend to live in the country’s border regions with its neighbors, the Kurds in the northwest, and the Arabs in the region around the Persian Gulf.
Nevertheless, developments such as those in Iraq or Afghanistan at the beginning of this millennium were not to be expected in Iran for a long time. Apart from the patriotism that is often cultivated towards one’s own ethnic group, separatist movements of ethnic minorities have not been a problem comparable to many neighboring states. They were limited to a few groups in Baluchistan and Kurdistan, although it is precisely here that the government likes to accuse separatism itself in order to forestall it with violence. Only recently have there been increasing signs that Iran is not immune to such developments either, that the current form of government as a unifying bracket should not be underestimated here either.
The average life expectancy is around 74 years for men and around 78 for women. The literacy rate is around 87% (slightly lower for women, as of 2015), but there is still a large difference in the level of education and standard of living between urban and rural areas.
According to philosophynearby, 99% of the Iranian population are Muslims (90% Shiites, 9% Sunnis), the twelve Shiite Islam is the state religion. There is a Christian minority belonging to different denominations, as well as Zoroastrians and the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel. After all, around 300,000 Baha’i live in Iran, but they are not officially recognized and as a result have hardly any rights.
The dividing lines in Iranian society, however, tend to run along social conditions, the reality of life between town and country differs greatly. A good 100 years ago Iran had an almost exclusively rural society, today 71% of Iranians live in cities; the largest are Tehran (approx. 8.6 million residents, metropolitan region 15.2), Esfahan (approx. 1.9, metropolitan region 3.9) and Mashhad (approx. 3, metropolitan region 3.3). The rural population continues to live mainly from agriculture or regional trade. The level of education, especially in regions that are difficult to access, is low. Since many people here work in the informal sector, for example in the bazaars of smaller cities, it is hardly possible to reliably collect figures on unemployment and income here.
The big cities stand against this: here, most people work in industry or in the service sector, which has been expanding for years. Although there are also large bazaars in Tehran and Esfahan, the number of employees there is rather small compared to the formal sector of the economy. The level of education in the cities is higher than that in the countryside.
The urban society, it can be observed mainly in Tehran, in turn, strongly differentiated socially. In the upper middle and upper classes, who live in the higher north of the city, a way of life can be observed that is similar in many aspects to the western one. It is particularly noticeable here that Iran has a very young society. More than 70% of all Iranians are around 30 years old. The young people in the cities in particular are increasingly striving for political freedom as well as educational and development opportunities that the Islamic Republic does not want to grant them.
The large discrepancy between urban and rural areas is leading to strong rural exodus, which is primarily focused on Tehran. Day by day, the number of often uneducated migrants who seek their fortune in the capital is growing in the suburbs of the city. In connection with high birth rates after the Islamic Revolution and ever better medical care, Tehran’s population has more than doubled since 1979. Today the city forms its own cosmos within Iran.
The bazaars, the traders of the bazaar, form their own social class. On average they are very conservative and are close to the system. The owners of large shops in particular are very wealthy and often use their money for political issues in the interests of the Islamic Republic, but they also argue with the government if it appears necessary to them. In the hot phase of the revolution of 1978/79 they played a decisive role, which they keep to this day.
The official language of Iran is Persian. It is spoken by around 58% of Iranians as their mother tongue, and every Iranian learns it at school. There are also many other languages, including Kurdish, Lurian, Arabic and, above all, Azeri, a Turkic language that is spoken by around 24% of the population, especially in the north-west of the country. The townspeople, especially the educated classes and the young, also speak English more and more often, even if not always well.