Globalization and the Rise of Women’s Literacy and Primary Education in Iran, from 1880 to the Present Day

  • David MitchEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Economic History book series (PEHS)


Iran is a striking example of a country experiencing a shift from widespread illiteracy to the onset of universal literacy in just a few decades. What is especially remarkable about the Iranian case is the persistent drive to universal female literacy, even in rural areas, during the regime change from a secularizing autocracy to an Islamic theocracy. The basic resolution of this apparent paradox is that the Islamic Revolution was perceived by its leaders as a true revolution. It was conceived not as a return to a traditional society but as a move to purify and establish Islamic morality to counteract secular, westernizing forces in Iranian society: Education was a policy lever to achieve such goals.


Literacy Literacy Corps Literacy Movement White Revolution Islamic Revolution Nationalism Secularization 



This chapter has benefitted from outstanding research assistance provided by Sousan Torabi Parizi.


  1. Abbasi-Shavazi, Mohammad Jalal, Wolfgang Lutz, and Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi. “Education and the World’s Most Rapid Fertility Decline in Iran.” Iterim report 08-010, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria, 2008.Google Scholar
  2. Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  3. Akhavi, Shahrough. Religion and Politics in Contemporary Iran: Clergy-State Relations in the Pahlavi Period. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  4. Arnove, Robert, and Harvey Graff. National Literacy Campaigns: Historical and Comparative Perspectives. New York: Plenum Press, 1987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beck, Lois. “Qashqa’I Women in Postrevolutionary Iran.” In Women in Iran from 1800 to the Islamic Republic, edited by Lois Beck and Guity Nashat, pp. 240–278, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  6. Erfani, Amir, and Kevin McQuillan. “The Changing Timing of Births in Iran: An Explanation of the Rise and Fall in Fertility After the 1979 Islamic Revolution.” Biodemography and Social Biology, 60, no. 1 (2014): 67–86.Google Scholar
  7. Firoozi, Ferydoon. “Iranian Censuses 1956 and 1966: A Comparative Analysis.” Middle East Journal, 24, no. 2 (1970): 220–228.Google Scholar
  8. Higgins, Patricia, and Pirouz Shoar-Ghaffari, “Women’s Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In In the Eye of the Storm. Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran, edited by Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl, pp. 19–43. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.Google Scholar
  9. Kazamias, Andreas M. Education and the Quest for Modernity in Turkey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.Google Scholar
  10. Kian-Thiebaut, Azadeh. Secularization of Iran: A Doomed Failure? The New Middle Class and the Making of Modern Iran. Travaux et memoirs de l’Institut d’etudes iraniennes no. 3. Paris: Diffusion Peeters, 1998.Google Scholar
  11. Lutz, Wolfgang, Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, and Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavzi. “Demography, Education, and Democracy: Global Trends and the Case of Iran.” Population and Development Review, 36, no. 2 (2010): 253–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Mehran, Golnar. “The Creation of the New Muslim Women: Female Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Convergence, 24 no. 4 (1991): 1–11.Google Scholar
  13. Mehran, Golnar. “Social Implications of Literacy in Iran.” Comparative Education Review, 36, no. 2 (1992): 194–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mehran, Golnar, “A Study of Girls’ Lack of Access to Primary Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Compare: A Journal of Comparative Education, 27, no. 3 (1997): 263–276.Google Scholar
  15. Mehran, Golnar, “The Paradox of Tradition and Modernity in Female Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Comparative Education Review, 47, no. 3 (2003): 269–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mehran, Golnar. “Gender and Education in Iran.” Background Paper Prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 2003/4, Gender and Education for All: The Leap to Equality. UNESCO.Google Scholar
  17. Mehryar, Amir, Gholamli Farjadi, and Mohammad Tabibian, “Labor-Force Participation of Women in Contemporary Iran.” In Women in Iran from 1800 to the Islamic Republic, edited by Lois Beck and Guity Nashat, pp. 182–203, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  18. Menashri, David. Education and the Making of Modern Iran. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1992.Google Scholar
  19. Nashat, Guity. “Women in Pre-revolutionary Iran: An Historical Overview.” In Women and Revolution in Iran, edited by Guity Nashat, pp. 5–35. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.Google Scholar
  20. Paidar, Parvin. Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  21. Poya, Maryam. Women, Work and Islamism: Ideology and Resistance in Iran. London and New York: Zed Books, 1999.Google Scholar
  22. Salehi-Ishfani, Djavad. “The Gender Gap in Education in Iran: Evidence for the Role of Household Characteristics.” In Labor and Human Capital in the Middle East: Studies of Markets and Household Behavior, edited by Djavad Salehi-Ishfani, pp. 235–255, Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  23. Sobhe, Khosrow. “Education in Revolution: Is Iran Duplicating the Chinese Cultural Revolution?” Comparative Education, 18, no. 3 (1982): 271–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of MarylandBaltimore CountyUSA

Personalised recommendations