Hekmati's experience is typical of young Iranians, who are finding themselves increasingly priced out of the marriage market. During the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, real estate prices have soared across the country, but especially in Tehran, where they have risen as much as 150%. Economists have blamed the spike on Ahmadinejad's disastrous economic policies. The President flooded the economy with capital through a loan scheme, cut interest rates 2% and embarked on huge state construction projects that drove up the price of building materials. Those changes prompted many investors to move out of the stock market and the banking system and into real estate, which was considered a safer bet. Apartment prices in the capital more than doubled between 2006 and 2008. (See pictures of health care in Iran.)
The real estate boom was a disaster for middle-income Iranians, particularly young men seeking marriage partners. And many of those who have married and moved in with in-laws are finding that inflation is eating away at their savings, meaning it will take years, rather than months, to get their own place. The resulting strains are breaking up existing marriages - this past winter, local media reported that a leading cause of Iran's high divorce rate is the husband's inability to establish an independent household. Many others are concluding that marriage is best avoided altogether. (See the Top 10 Ahmadinejad-isms.)
Ahmadinejad's government response to the crisis included a plan, unveiled in November 2008 by the National Youth Organization, called "semi-independent marriage." It proposed that young people who cannot afford to marry and move into their own place legally marry but continue living apart in their parents' homes. The announcement prompted swift outrage. Online news sites ran stories in which women angrily denounced the scheme, arguing that it afforded men a legal and pious route to easy sex while offering women nothing by way of security or social respect. The government hastily dropped the plan.
As Iranians head to the polls on Friday, Ahmadinejad faces the prospect that the very same broad discontent with the economy that propelled him to victory in 2005 could now help unseat him. Samira, a 27-year-old who works in advertising, recently became engaged and is among the millions of young Iranians who are eyeing the candidates through the lens of their own marital concerns. "Ahmadinejad promised he would bring housing prices down, but that didn't happen at all," she says. If left to their own salaries, she explains, she and her fiancÉ will never be able to afford their own place. That's a key reason they're voting for, the leading reformist candidate, who has made the economy the center of his platform. Like many young Iranians, they hope a new President will make marriage a possibility once more.
It's striking how obvious the logic of what I call Affordable Family Formation is to Iranians, while the vast majority of social analysts in the U.S. remain oblivious to the obvious.
Different social norms mask the situation somewhat in the U.S. Here, high housing prices tend to discourage child-bearing merely among the prudent but not among the imprudent (as satirized in the opening scene of "Idiocracy.") As I reported in VDARE.com: "From 2005 to 2007, the number of babies born in the United States to married women declined 0.3 percent. In contrast, the number born to unmarried women grew 12.3 percent."