In November 1986, the government reported that the preliminary count in the fourth national census, which had been conducted during October, showed a total population of 48,181,463. According to the government, this total included about 2.6 million refugees who had come from Afghanistan and Iraq since 1980. The population of Iranian nationals, approximately 45.6 million, represented an increase of about 12 million over the 33.7 million enumerated in the 1976 census. This indicated that the Iranian population had grown at an annual rate of 3.6 percent between 1976 and 1986. A population increase in excess of 3.3 percent per year puts Iran's population growth rate among the higher rates in the world.

The preliminary report on the 1986 census showed that Iran's population had been growing at a faster rate since 1976 than during earlier periods. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, estimates and scattered population surveys indicated that the average population growth rate was less than 2 percent annually. After World War II, however, the population growth rate began to rise. Between the first national census in 1956, when Iran's population numbered 19 million, and the second national census in 1966, when the population count was 25.3 million, the annual growth rate averaged 2.9 percent. The results of the 1976 national census, however, indicated a slight decrease in the average annual growth rate to 2.7 percent.

The sharp increase in the population growth rate from 2.7 percent to nearly 3.6 percent per year between 1976 and 1986 appeared to be related to the Revolution in 1979. Prior to the Revolution, the government had promoted a family planning program; however, following the Revolution, the new government ceased all official involvement in family planning. Although there has been no religious prohibition on birth control, government pronouncements and literature have tended to extol the virtues of large families.

In mid-1987, data on vital statistics from the 1986 preliminary census were incomplete, but some demographic changes were already evident. The 1976 census data had indicated that 51.4 percent of the population was male and 48.6 was female. The median age of the population was 16.5 years, and less than 3.5 percent of the population was over 65. The relatively large population increase between 1976 and 1986 had the effect of increasing the already extreme youthfulness of the population. In 1986 the government announced that 50 percent of the population was under 15 years of age, and about 45 percent was in the 15- to 59-year age group, while only 5 percent was over the age of 60.

According to the preliminary results of the 1986 census, the average population density for the country was twenty-nine persons per square kilometer. In some regions, especially along the Caspian coast and in East Azarbaijan, the average density was significantly higher, while in the more arid regions of the Central Plateau and Baluchestan va Sistan, average population density was ten or fewer persons per square kilometer.

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