Data on Iran's labor force after the Revolution were incomplete in mid- 1987, but the economically active population was estimated to be about 12.5 million. Unemployment had been a serious problem since 1979. In the autumn of 1986, the government announced that 1.8 million persons--about 14.5 percent of the labor force--were registered as unemployed. This was a high percentage by comparison with the 1975 International Labour Organisation's unemployment estimate of 3.5 percent. In 1987 economists believed that underemployment was also relatively high.
Agriculture remained the principal source of employment in the late 1980s. The decline in the size of the agricultural work force had been much more gradual since the Revolution than during 1949-79. At the end of World War II, approximately 60 percent of the work force was employed in agriculture; by 1979 the percentage of workers in agriculture had fallen to just under 40 percent. In 1987 an estimated 38 percent of the work force, or nearly 4.8 million workers, was employed in agriculture.
The industrial sector in 1987 employed about 31 percent of the work force, the same percentage as on the eve of the Revolution. From the 1920s until 1978, the industrial work force grew rapidly, especially during the 1970s, when industrial employment grew at an annual rate of 14 percent. The relative stasis of industrial employment in comparison to its rapid expansion before the Revolution has been attributed by economists to the war with Iraq, especially to the destruction of important industrial infrastructure in the southwestern part of the country.
According to an Iranian government report for FY 1984, the industrial work force employed in factories with 10 or more laborers totaled some 593,000. About 25 percent of this number, or 145,0000 workers, was employed in the textile and leather industries. Another 141,000 workers were employed in heavy industries.
The service sector employed about 31 percent of the work force in 1987. All commercial activity and most civil service jobs were considered part of this sector. A substantial proportion of service sector employment, however, was in marginal activities such as custodial work, street vending, and personal services such as barbering, attendant work at public baths, consumer goods repairs, and the performance of porter duties in town bazaars.
At the time of the Revolution in 1979, an estimated 1.3 million Iranians (13 percent of the work force) were women. (Rural women working the fields were not counted as part of the work force.) Female employment was highest in manufacturing, which accounted for an estimated 60 percent of all working females. Women were employed extensively in the textile mills and in labor-intensive manufacturing jobs requiring few skills and offering relatively low pay, such as carpet making and other handicrafts undertaken in factories, small workshops, and homes. Many women were employed in services as well. About 20 percent of working females were employed in domestic and other personal services and accounted for nearly 17 percent of all employment in this category. Less than 20 percent of working women were government employees, and a tiny minority held professional positions.
After the Revolution, work opportunities for professional women and those working in offices were severely constricted. The government opposed having women work in jobs that would enable them to render legal opinions or supervise males. Official statistics, however, indicated that the number of women in the labor force remained relatively constant because women were needed to work in war-related plant jobs. The government survey for FY 1984 reported that females made up more than 12.6 percent of the urban labor force and 6 percent of the industrial work force. The total number of women in the labor force in 1985 was 1.6 million, of whom about 18 percent were unemployed. Of the 1.3 million women actively employed, approximately 43 percent worked in urban areas; 61 percent of urban women workers were government employees.
Two factors for which there were no reliable data in 1988 affected the labor force after 1980: the war with Iraq and the presence of Afghan refugees. On the one hand, more than 500,000 working-age males were removed from the labor force at any given time for military service. War-related casualties removed additional tens of thousands of potential workers. On the other hand, many Afghan refugees, of whom there were slightly more than 2.3 million according to the preliminary 1986 figures, were working in Iran after 1980, most in unskilled jobs. There were no meaningful estimates of the number of workers who may have lost jobs because of the extensive war-inflicted destruction of industrial sites and commercial enterprises between 1980 and 1987.
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