Measuring Human Development

On Determining How Advanced We Are

When I was born, the average life expectancy was 76 years. Now it has gone up to 81 years. The country’s GDP went from 108.4 billion Euro to roughly 568.8 billion Euro per year. The number of television channels went from about 20 to well over 150. You might say we’re doing all right for ourselves. Still, when you turn on the TV all you hear is economical crisis, budget-cuts, layoffs, foreclosures. With all this bad news you might get the idea that we aren’t doing very well. You might get the idea that we are going backwards rather than forward.

There are several ways to get a good measure of “how we’re doing”, how developed a nation we are. In 1990 the undp had several economists develop just such a measurement. The idea was to devise a measurement of human development that would get policy-makers to step away from using the national income as it’s only guide. This system, appropriately called the Human Development Index, combines three variables; life expectancy at birth, the average length of people’s education and the gross national income. Using this system you get a decent idea not just how rich a country is, but also how well its population is doing on average.

Measuring poverty

However, in that simple statement “how well its population is doing on average” lies a great flaw. A country can score very high simply because it treats a small portion of its population really well. Since 2010 the undp added a measurement to its three main variables; a country’s inequality. In this measurement countries with high inequalities get bumped down.

Naturally, you don't track human development to pat the countries that are doing well on the back. You track human development to see where people need help. The question is if a number made up of just three variables is enough of an indicator. While the hdi now deals with inequality, it doesn't deal with things like civil liberties, human rights violations, ecological problems, etc. And while the hdi would indirectly reflect problematic social issues, we need to track more to see the bigger picture.

Enter the Multidimensional Poverty Index. It’s been developed by the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative in 2010 and measures several indicators of poverty. Like the hdi it looks at a population’s health and education, but it splits these factors up in nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling and school attendance. Next to that it also looks at a population’s living standards, by looking at sanitation, cooking fuel, availability of water and electricity, floor type and people’s assets. The Multidimensional Poverty Index also allows countries and regions to add their own indicators to add an even more specific dataset to work with. Interesting enough income is not included. The reason being that income datasets do not contain health or nutrition information, making it difficult to match these datasets to the other datasets.

Going Beyond Measurements

Measurements like the Multidimensional Poverty Index are great tools to get an idea of where help is needed, but useless unless it is used to actually get help to the people who need it. And raising people’s living standards is in all our interest. Not only is it saving and improving human lives it also sets the basis for stronger economies around the world, which in turn the entire planet will benefit from.

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