Persians are concentrated in and near several cities on the Iranian plateau—Kermān, Shirāz, Yazd, Eşfahān, Kāshān, and Tehran—and in Herat in Afghanistan. Each city is the economic and political center of dozens of towns, and each town integrates hundreds of villages into a regional economic network. Urban Persians can be grouped into distinct occupational and social classes based on their degree of control over economic and political resources. At the top of the hierarchy are real-estate investors and speculators and other industrial and commercial entrepreneurs. This class includes many deputies, senators, ministers, ambassadors, and governors. On the next rung of the hierarchy are high-ranking administrators, who derive their power from above. Merchants and shopkeepers, the Bazaaris, constitute the third level of the social system and are perhaps the most cohesive segment of Iranian society. The Bazaaris have been closely allied with the ulama (clergy), who comprise another step on the hierarchical ladder. They are the interpreters and practitioners of Islam and in the past have led successful protest movements against unpopular rulers. The fifth urban category might be considered the middle class. It includes a large proportion of the educated white-collar workers, civil-service employees, doctors, teachers, engineers, and other specialists, including the military. In the 1970s the middle class was growing rapidly in size and political importance. Below the middle class is the urban proletariat. They comprise more than a third of the urban population, including factory and construction workers, municipal employees, and mental laborers. On the bottom rung is the subproletariat—the unskilled and often unemployed. Primarily Persian, this group consists primarily of poor nomads and landless villagers who come to the city in search of wage labor.
Persian towns are far more homogeneous than are the cities. Religious observances are practiced more regularly and fervently than in the city. Townspeople criticize urban dwellers because of their religious laxity and decadent Western behavior and values. At the same time, however, many townspeople, especially the more affluent, try to emulate the city life-style.
A large proportion of the Persian population still lives in thousands of villages and hamlets. Village populations vary between a few households and a thousand inhabitants. The size of a village depends on two critical factors, arable land and availability of water, both of which can be privately owned.
Like the Persian family, the social system is hierarchical, paternalistic, and authoritarian. Initiatives originate and decisions are almost always handed down from the top; subordinates seldom assume responsibility. This vertical system of social relations sometimes produces friendships between people of equal status that are very close and intimate but difficult to maintain over time.