Critics of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 often paint the picture of a failed revolution when they focus on the structure of employment or on income inequality, neither of which indicates improvement or deep social change. I argue here that the critics miss an important dimension of social change where the revolution has had its greatest impact on Iranian society, namely, the improvement and transformation of the lives of the poor, especially the rural poor, who were socially excluded before the revolution. Poverty is now substantially lower (poverty rates are very low by developing country standards), and rural families have much greater access to basic public services such as electricity, roads, schools, health facilities, and safe water. Some of the gains are the direct result of the revolutionary government's priorities, which shifted infrastructure investment toward villages. In particular, investment in rural health facilities is responsible for a spectacular decline in fertility, as well as child and maternal mortality. Other improvements may be unintended consequences of government action. The significant rise in the education of rural girls in the postrevolutionary era was definitely helped by greater access to schools and family planning services, but it was also in part the result of the strict enforcement of the Islamic dress code and of public behavior that enabled women to leave the confines of their homes to seek more education and look for work.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.