I often hear exiles reminesce about the "good old days" of the Shah, a pathological condition I've witnessed in many exiles from many lands. Camilia Entekhabifard has an op-ed in today's NY Times engaging in some of the same sort of exilitis about pre-revolutionary Iran, when Iran was ruled by the Shah. Oh, we were really respected in those days, weren't we? Oh, the economy was so much better then days, wasn't it? Oh life was so much better then wasn't it? Well, I guess you can't expect a NY Times reporter to actually check her figures before saying stuff like this.
In fact the majority of Iranians prior to the revolution were illiterate and poor, and despite the fancy photo shown on the NY Times page of the Shah and his wife in a mink coat, Tehran had a massive slum in the south known as "Halabi-abad" ("Tin City" -- the houses were made with discarded tin cans)
So for a bit of objectivity, I recommend Wolfram Alpha's elegant charts of UN data. The fact is that life for Iranians has significantly improved SINCE the revolution, despite the war and sanctions:
Oh, and from the UNDP's Human Development Report 2011:
Islamic Republic of Iran’s HDI value for 2011 is 0.707—in the high human development category—positioning the country at 88 out of 187 countries and territories. Between 1980 and 2011, Islamic Republic of Iran’s HDI value increased from 0.437 to 0.707, an increase of 62.0 per cent ...
Between 1980 and 2011, Islamic Republic of Iran’s life expectancy at birth increased by 21.9 years, mean years of schooling increased by 5.2 years and expected years of schooling increased by 4.3 years. Islamic Republic of Iran’s GNI [Gross National Income] per capita increased by about 43.0 per cent between 1980 and 2011.