The United Nations use 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.
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 birth||20||83.2|
|Mean years of adult education adults over 25 have received||0||13.2|
|number of years of education children attending school can expect||0||20.6|
|Gross National Income per capita (PPP)||163||108, 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
Towards the Bottom
|140||Democratic Republic of the Congo||0.276|
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.