The history of Iran is embodied in its ethnic mosaic. Ethnic Persians, who make up half the population, dominate the north and west, living mostly in urban areas. Northwest Iran contains the Azerbaijanis; the second largest ethnic group in Iran, they are often farmers, herders and traders. In the Zagros mountains live the Kurds, Luri and Bakhtiari, who were traditionally nomadic herders. The southwest is home to many Arabs, who often work in the oil industry, while the southeast is home of the Baluchis, farmers who often live in huts made of willow branches. Many other ethnic groups also live in Iran.

With so many peoples, there are few general truths about Iranian families. Religion, social class and ethnic group all affect family structure. In general, however, Iranians regard the unity and honour of the family as more important than individual wishes. Many people prefer to live near their relatives. Most families are headed by the oldest male, with formal authority descending through other males by age. Children are raised to be disciplined and to respect their elders.

Regarded as very important, marriage often occurs before the age of 20. In some rural families, parents arrange marriages for their children, setting a bride-price that helps finance the wedding. Some grooms also contract to pay a mahriyeh to their brides in the event of divorce or the husband's death. Although Shi'ite Muslims may legally marry up to four women, polygamy is rare.

Upper-class, urban women in Iran have undergone the greatest social changes this century. They were traditionally more restricted than women from poorer families or the countryside, whose labour is often necessary for their families' survival. Before Khomeini's rise to power, women from upper-class families had moved into the labour force for the first time, and many achieved high positions; since the revolution, all women, particularly urban ones, have faced numerous restrictions, and sexual segregation has become more important in society. Segregation is enforced in various aspects of life, such as seating on public buses and dress codes.

Iranians dress very modestly, with arms and legs covered. By law, women over age nine must wear the hejab or Islamic dress. This can include wearing either a chador, a cloak-like garment (usually black) that completely covers the body, or a head scarf accompanied by trousers and a long, loose coat.

  Did you know?
The desert city of Yazd has houses built below ground to escape the heat. The houses have special "wind towers" designed to catch every breath of wind and send it downward to refresh the living areas.

  Did you know?
Iran is a modern country infused with rich traditions. Cities offer fast-food restaurants and international business districts alongside bazaars selling spices and carpets.