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 (see Refugees , ch. 2). 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.
Data as of December 1987