Legacies of Mass Mobilization in the Iran-Iraq War: Findings from the 2016 Iran Social Survey

By Kevan Harris
Submitted to Session P4803 (The Conflicted Legacies of the Iran Iraq War, 2017 Annual Meeting
On the Iranian side of the Iran-Iraq War, the armed forces relied on a labor-intensive war strategy in which volunteers played an important role, many of them of young age. While recent scholarship has more accurately estimated the number of casualties and deaths resulting from the war, few studies have taken into account the social legacies of mass mobilization for veteran and “martyr” families. Anecdotal accounts often claim that veteran families experienced a form of upward mobility via affirmative action in the post-war years through special access to education and employment quotas. Yet this claim has never been balanced against more common forms of transmission of status through family ties such as wealth or cultural capital. How did war-linked upward mobility fare against less politicized forms of status and class preservation in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

To assess the social legacies of the Iran-Iraq war, I draw from the 2016 Iran Social Survey, a large, nationally representative survey (N=5005) conducted over phone from Tehran in November/December 2016. Questions were included about war participation in combat and non-combat roles for respondents, spouses, or fathers. As a result, Iran Social Survey data allows us to estimate the social demographics of war veterans, including family size, educational levels of parents, and occupational and educational status of male and female children. To preview the findings: processes of war-linked upward mobility did exist for a subset of families in the survey, controlling for other factors. Yet the degree of mobility is modest compared to two other processes of status transmission: land inheritance and parents’ class status. In sum, as with many wars, mass mobilization left a legacy of “social leveling” in Iranian society but the effects varied alongside other powerful forms of social stratification and inequality.