The Human Development Index

The United Nations uses The Human Development Index (HDI) as a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. It provides a useful ‘snap-shot’ of a country’s economic and social development.

HDI Scores in 2020

Dark Green is high ranging through to dark red which is low….

Source

The Human Development Index

The Human Development Index measures Human Development using four indicators

  • To measure health – Life expectancy at birth
  • To measure education – the average (mean) number years of adult education adults over 25 have received and the number of expected years of education children attending school can expect
  • To measure standard of living – Gross National Income per capita (PPP)

Each country is then given a rank from between 0 and 1 based on how well it scores in relation to ‘constructed minimum’ and ‘observed maximum scores for each of these criteria. The minimum and maximum scores for each criteria are as below

 Minimum scores*Perceived maximums
Life expectancy at birth2083.2
Mean years of adult education adults over 25 have received013.2
number of years of education children attending school can expect020.6
Gross National Income per capita (PPP)163108, 211

(*This is the level below which the UN believes there is no prospect for human development!)

How does the HDI work out a country’s score? – it’s quite easy – if a country has a life expectancy of 83.2, and all the other maximums, it would score one, if it had a life expectancy of 20, and all the other minimums it would score zero. If it was half way between the minimum and maximum – it would score 0.5 – NB by the UK’s standards, this would be a pretty low level of human development!

The Human Development Index – Best and Worst Performers

Top

1 Norway0.954
2  Switzerland0.946
3 Ireland0.942
4 Germany0.939
4 Hong Kong0.939
6 Australia0.938
6 Iceland0.938
8 Sweden0.937
9 Singapore0.935
10 Netherlands0.933

Towards the Bottom 

179 Congo, Democratic Republic e0.459
180 Mozambique0.446
181 Sierra Leone0.438
182 Burkina Faso0.434
182 Eritrea0.434
184 Mali0.427
185 Burundi0.423
186 South Sudan0.413
187 Chad0.401
188 Central African Republic0.381
189 Niger0.377

What do the scores above mean?

  • If a country scores 1-0.788 it is classified as a ‘developed country’ with ‘high human development’ – as are 42 countries – most European countries come into this category. These are typically the countries with GNIs of $40K per capita or more, 13 full years of education and 80+ life expectancies.
  • If a country scores 0.48 or lower it is classified as having Low human development – e.g. Sierra Leonne – here you will see a GNI per capita of below $1000, 10 years or less of school and life expectancies in the 60s.

Advantages of the Human Development Index

  • It provides us with a much fuller picture of how well developed a country is, allowing for fuller comparisons to be made.
  • It shows us that while there is a general correlation between economic and social development, two countries with the same level of economic development may have different levels of social development. See below for examples.
  • Some argue that this is a more human centred approach, concerned more with actual human welfare than just mere economics. It gets more to ‘the point’ of economic development.

Two Limitations of the Human Development Index

  • Relying on the HDI score alone may disguise a lack of social development in a country – for example a very high GNI can compensate for poor life-expectancy, as is the case in the United States.
  • It is still only provides a fairly limited indication of social development – only health and education are covered – there are many other ways of measuring health and education.

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