June 8, 2009
Posted: 11:56 PM ET
My friends Farhad and Mahnaz are the quintessential Iranian couple. They are both engineers with a shared passion for hiking and movies and have been smitten with each other for six years — but Farhad and Mahnaz can't afford to get married because even a one-bedroom apartment is beyond their reach, despite their both having decent middle-class jobs. This reality has preyed on their relationship, compelling them to consider leaving Iran. And they blame the government for their situation.
"We aren't lazy, and we aren't aiming for anything so high," says Mahnaz.
These days, the phrase "marriage crisis" pops up in election debates, newspapers and blogs and is considered by government officials and ordinary Iranians alike to be one of the nation's most serious problems. It refers to the rising number of young people of marrying age who cannot afford to marry or are choosing not to tie the knot. By official estimates, there are currently 13 million to 15 million Iranians of marrying age; to keep that figure steady, Iran should be registering about 1.65 million marriages each year. The real figure is closer to half that. (See photographs of "The Long Shadow of Ayatullah Khomeini.")
Why does this matter? Because Iran's government cannot afford to further alienate the young people that comprise more than 35% of its population. The young are already seething over their government's radical stance in the world and its trashing of the economy, and their anger easily expresses itself politically. As they decide how to vote in Friday's presidential election, young people like Farhad and Mahnaz are likely to base their decision in part on who they think will address the problem closest to their heart. (Read "North Korea Wipes Out Iran — from the World Cup.")
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