You are currently viewing What Is the Human Development Index & How Does It Work?

What Is the Human Development Index & How Does It Work?

The United Nations created the Human Development Index (HDI), a widely used and reputable indicator, to evaluate the welfare and standard of living of a nation’s population. Since its introduction in 1990, the Human Development Index (HDI) has grown to be an essential resource for scholars, politicians, and the general public to assess how well developed a country is. This all-inclusive index provides a more holistic and nuanced assessment of a nation’s overall progress than only economic data. 

The first Human Development Report (HDR) was released in 1990 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The first HDR was proposed in 1990 by Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Pakistani economist Mahbub Ul Haq. The studies on human capacities by Amartya Sen served as the foundation for the human development theory of Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq.

The HDI determines the lowest and highest value for each dimension, also known as “goalposts,” and then shows the position of each country with respect to these objectives. For every dimension, the index value is computed on a 0–1 scale, where 0 represents the lowest value and 1 is the maximum value assigned to the corresponding indication. The HDI value of a nation rises as its human development level does.

Three Elements of the Human Development Index

Each of the three primary HDI measures represents a crucial facet of human development. These measurements are:

1) Health

The population’s health is the primary emphasis of the HDI’s first component. The life expectancy at birth, which represents the typical number of years a newborn is predicted to live, is used to quantify it. This statistic measures a society’s general health and lifespan by accounting for variables including living circumstances, illness prevalence, and access to healthcare.

Read More: The Significance of Health Diplomacy in the 21st Century

2) Education

A key factor in determining how people grow is education. Mean years of schooling and predicted years of schooling are the two sub-indices that make up the HDI’s education dimension. The average number of years that individuals 25 and older have spent in school is represented by their “mean years of schooling.” On the other hand, expected years of schooling provide an estimate of the total number of years of education a kid can anticipate receiving upon beginning school if age-specific enrollment ratios stay constant across the child’s lifetime.

3) Gross National Productivity per Capita (GDP/Capita):

A key component of human development is economic well-being, but the HDI extends beyond conventional economic metrics. The Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is used to calculate the standard of living component after being adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP). This indicator considers the amount of money produced domestically and how it is distributed among the populace. PPP adjustments assist in adjusting for differences in living standards between nations.

The GNI index is used in this method to determine a respectable level of life. $100 is considered the low minimum PPP value. The maximum amount that may be used is PPP 75,000.

How Does HDI Work?

There are several procedures and calculations involved in calculating the Human Development Index. The Life Expectancy Index (LEI), Education Index (EI), and Income Index (II) values must first be calculated. The geometric mean of the three normalized indices is, at last, the HDI.

A score between 0 and 1 is generated by this formula, where larger values correspond to greater stages of human development. The HDI makes it simple to compare nations, which promotes a better comprehension of the relative degrees of development.

Based on historical data, no nation in the 20th century had a life expectancy less than 20 years, which supports setting 20 years as the natural zero for life expectancy. A reasonable aspirational target for several countries over the previous 30 years, the maximum lifespan is set at 85 years. Living standards and medical progress have allowed life expectancy to approach 85 years in various economies: 84.9 years in Hong Kong, China (Special Administrative Region), and 84.6 years in Japan.

Societies may function without formal education, which supports the requirement of a zero-year education minimum. In most nations, completing the required number of school years (18) is equal to earning a master’s degree. The expected maximum of this indicator for 2025 is 15, which is the maximum for mean years of schooling.

The significant proportion of unmeasured subsistence and non-market output in economies around the minimum, which is not included in the official data, justifies the low minimum number for gross national income (GNI) per capita, $100. The highest amount is $75,000 for each person. Research by Kahneman and Deaton (2010) has demonstrated that annual incomes exceeding $75,000 per capita have almost no positive impact on human growth and wellbeing.

Importance of HDI

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a tool used to divert focus from the typical conventional economic data that determines human development results and to bring policymakers, the media, and nonprofit groups into focus. It was designed to place more emphasis on a country’s people and their talents than on economic growth, as they are the most important factors in defining a nation’s degree of development.

In addition to analyzing national policy choices, the HDI is used to determine how two countries with comparable per capita incomes can have such disparate levels of human development. For instance, because of their wildly disparate life expectancies and rates of literacy, two countries may have comparable income structures but a substantially different Human Development Index (HDI). The purpose of the research is to identify the underlying causes of these discrepancies and take action to close the gap. For the same reason, an examination of why some approaches work in some nations but not in others is required.

These findings assist the corresponding governments in organizing specific health and education strategies. The HDI also highlights differences between countries, regions, states, genders, ethnic groups, and other socioeconomic classifications. It also contributes to bringing the necessary attention to the current internal discrepancies.

Read More: 8 Different Ways to Combat Human Trafficking

Limitations of HDI

Human development is not fully captured by the HDI. Measuring a population’s total growth possibilities requires consideration of other aspects, including, human security, empowerment, inequality, and poverty. On the other hand, important concerns like gender inequality, poverty, and income inequality are measured by different indices by the UN Human Development Report Office (HDRO) and are not included in the HDI. A comprehensive understanding of a country’s true state of human development and standard of living requires data from these indicators.

Their economic chances are greatly impacted by the aforementioned variables, which also have an influence on living conditions, education, and health: gender inequality, poverty, inequities, and human security. The contribution of technical advancement to civilization is likewise disregarded by the ranking. Moreover, there may be a significant sampling error when substantial volumes of data are collected from many nations. Errors may render the entire set of data ineffective.

HDI vs. GDP: Which Is More Effective?

The SDGs’ emphasis on leaving no one behind makes it apparent that a better comprehension of development results on the ground will be necessary. But with 17 goals, 169 targets, and many more indicators, the framework becomes increasingly complicated, necessitating the need for a straightforward method of tracking advancement.

The HDI will be more effective than the GDP in capturing the advancements made over a 15-year period. Unlike other more sophisticated indices, the HDI is based on data that has probably been gathered over a number of years in many different nations, allowing it to represent a more nuanced view of human development while still being sufficiently basic to be inclusive.

Despite this, it is understandable why the majority of nations continue to gauge “development” and level of living using GDP. The value of products and services produced domestically is taken into account while calculating a state’s GDP, a metric that was devised in the 1930s. The measures are simple, and the data needed to calculate GDP is reasonably accessible. Also, because this extremely limited definition of wealth is simple to apply everywhere, it is frequently used as a measure of life quality. Politicians continue to choose it as their favored indication.

Yet, GDP is far from ideal as an indicator of wealth. The degree of inequality that exists inside a nation, including the disparity between the affluent and the poor and any occurrences of social or political discrimination, is not taken into account. It also ignores the processes involved in generating or accumulating wealth, such as the negative consequences of resource extraction. GDP should be viewed as a measure of economic activity rather than a standard of living in this sense. Conversely, human development focuses on qualitative results. Researchers can add some more detail to this image thanks to the HDI’s consideration of per capita income, life expectancy, and education. These very straightforward data types serve as crucial social welfare and freedom measures.


The Human Development Index has evolved into an essential resource for evaluating and contrasting global human well-being. The HDI offers a comprehensive view of progress that transcends economic metrics by combining health, education, and standard of living data. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a helpful tool for activists, academics, and politicians striving toward a more sustainable and equitable future, despite its limits. This is because it can represent a multifaceted aspect of human development. The HDI continues to serve as a guide for efforts to enhance everyone’s quality of life and a gauge of success as the world community works to address the problems of the twenty-first century.


What Is the HDI, or Human Development Index?

The Human Development Index is a comprehensive statistical measure created by the United Nations to evaluate the general well-being and standard of living of a nation’s citizens. In order to give a more thorough picture of human development beyond economic issues, it considers important elements including health, education, and the standard of living.

How Is the HDI Determined?

The gross national income per capita (GNP) adjusted for purchasing power parity is used to evaluate the standard of living. The three basic elements of the HDI are health (measured by life expectancy at birth), education (measured by mean and anticipated years of schooling), and education. Higher values in the formula indicate higher degrees of human development, and the score ranges from 0 to 1.

Which Elements Make Up the HDI’s Core?

There are three primary elements that make up the HDI. Health, which is determined by lifespan at birth, Education, which includes both the average and predicted number of years spent in school, Lastly, gross national income per capita, which is adjusted for purchasing power parity, is an indicator of the standard of living.

Why Is the HDI Essential When Comparing Nations?

Since it offers a more comprehensive perspective of development that takes into account factors like standard of living, health, and education, the HDI is essential for comparing nations. Policymakers, scholars, and the general public may use this to compare countries with knowledge, which helps to better comprehend relative well-being and pinpoint areas in need of development.

What Are the HDI’s Limitations?

Despite its widespread use, the HDI has many drawbacks. It ignores environmental sustainability, oversimplifies complicated national circumstances, and fails to take explicit national inequalities into consideration. Furthermore, because it relies on averages, the index could miss some subtle aspects of development and mask differences between various demographic groups.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

Leave a Reply