This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals
This paper examines the impact of Iran's rural family planning program on the literacy of adult rural women and on the gender gap in literacy. The rural family planning program was the largest and by all accounts the most successful social program launched in Iran after the revolution. It has been credited with the rapid decline of fertility that has transformed the lives of rural women. As the program comes under criticism from conservatives in Iran for having slowed the rate of population growth too much, it is time evaluate its impact on other aspects of women's lives, in particular on education. This paper focuses on a specific aspect of the program -- the rural health clinics -- that lends itself to impact evaluation. These clinics were the most important part of the family planning program in rural areas; they numbered about 18,000 and their services reached more than 90% of all rural women. Using data on the timing of the construction of about 14000 clinics, I create two subsamples of village, a treatment group that received a clinic during 1986-96 and a control group that did not have a clinic by the end of this period. I then compare the rate of increase in female and male literacy and the gender gap in literacy between these groups. I control for observable differences between villages in the two groups that may have in influenced their selection into the treatment group. The evidence shows that villages that received a health clinic during 1986-1996 experienced a 4-8% faster increase in adult female literacy compared to villages that received it after 1996. No similar impact is detected for male literacy. Thus the clinics contributed to the narrowing of the gender gap in literacy, accounting for about 50% of its decrease over the period of study. The results suggest that the elimination of family planning support that started in 2014 may have undesirable effects beyond affecting fertility.