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HDI - The Human Development Index

The United Nations Development Program Produces the Human Development Report

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The United States Capitol in Washington D.C.

The United States is one of the countries in the top five of the United Nations Human Development Index.

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Updated April 17, 2014
The Human Development Index (commonly abbreviated HDI) is a summary of human development around the world and implies whether a country is developed, still developing, or underdeveloped based on factors such as life expectancy, education, literacy, gross domestic product per capita. The results of the HDI are published in the Human Development Report, which is commissioned by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and is written by scholars, those who study world development and members of the Human Development Report Office of the UNDP.

According to the UNDP, human development is “about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations. Development is thus about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value.”

Human Development Index Background

The United Nations has calculated the HDI for its member states since 1975. The first Human Development Report was published in 1990 with leadership from Pakistani economist and finance minister Mahbub ul Haq and Indian Nobel Prize Laureate for Economics, Amartya Sen.

The main motivation for the Human Development Report itself was a focus on only real income per capita as the basis for a country’s development and prosperity. The UNDP claimed that economic prosperity as shown with real income per capita, was not the only factor in measuring human development because these numbers do not necessarily mean a country’s people as a whole are better off. Thus, the first Human Development Report used the HDI and examined such concepts as health and life expectancy, education, and work and leisure time.

The Human Development Index Today

Today, the HDI examines three basic dimensions to measure a country’s growth and achievements in human development. The first of these is health for the country’s people. This is measured by life expectancy at birth and those with higher life expectancies rank higher than those with lower life expectancies.

The second dimension measured in the HDI is a country’s overall knowledge level as measured by the adult literacy rate combined with the gross enrollment ratios of students in primary school through the university level.

The third and final dimension in the HDI is a country’s standard of living. Those with higher standards of living rank higher than those with lower standards of living. This dimension is measured with the gross domestic product per capita in purchasing power parity terms, based on United States dollars.

In order to accurately calculate each of these dimensions for the HDI, a separate index is calculated for each of them based on the raw data gathered during studies. The raw data is then put into a formula with minimum and maximum values to create an index. The HDI for each country is then calculated as an average of the three indices which include the life expectancy index, the gross enrollment index and the gross domestic product.

2011 Human Development Report

On November 2, 2011, the UNDP released the 2011 Human Development report. The top countries in the Human Development Index portion of the report were grouped into a category called “Very High Human Development” and are considered developed. The top five countries based on 2013 HDI were:

1) Norway
2) Australia
3) United States
4) Netherlands
5) Germany

The category of “Very High Human Development" includes places like Bahrain, Israel, Estonia and Poland. Countries with “High Human Development” are next and include Armenia, the Ukraine and Azerbaijan. There is a category called "Medium Human Development" which includes Jordan, Honduras, and South Africa. Finally, countries with “Low Human Development” include such places as Togo, Malawi and Benin.

Criticisms of the Human Development Index

Throughout its time in use, the HDI has been criticized for a number of reasons. One of them is its, failure to include ecological considerations while focusing online on national performance and ranking. Critics also say that the HDI fails to recognize countries from a global perspective and instead examines each independently. In addition, critics have also said that the HDI is redundant because it measures aspects of development that have already been highly studied worldwide.

Despite these criticisms, the HDI continues to be used today and is important because it consistently draws the attention of governments, corporations and international organizations to portions of development which focus on aspects other than income like health and education.

To learn more about the Human Development Index, visit the United Nations Development Program website.

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