For better or for worse, till the human development index do us part?
Morse, S. (2003) For better or for worse, till the human development index do us part? Ecological Economics, 45 (2). pp. 281-296. ISSN 0921-8009
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1016/s0921-8009(03)00085-5
This paper describes the results of research intended to explore the volatility inherent in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is intended to be a simple and transparent device for comparing progress in human development, and is an aggregate of life expectancy, education and GDP per capita. Values of the HDI for each country are presented in the Human Development Reports (HDRs), the first being published in 1990. However, while the methodology is consistent for all countries in each year there are notable differences between years that make temporal comparisons of progress difficult. The paper presents the results of recalculating the HDI for a simplified sample of 114 countries using various methodologies employed by the UNDP. The results are a set of deviations of recalculated HDI ranks compared to the original ranks given in the HDRs. The volatility that can result from such recalculation is shown to be substantial (+/-10-15 ranks), yet reports in the popular press are frequently sensitive to movements of only a few ranks. Such movement can easily be accounted for by changes in the HDI methodology rather than genuine progress in human development. While the HDRs often carry warnings about the inadvisability of such year-on-year comparisons, it is argued that the existence of such a high-profile index and the overt presentation within league tables do encourage such comparison. Assuming that the HDI will be retained as a focal point within the HDRs, then it is suggested that greater focus be upon more meaningful and robust categories of human development (e.g. low, medium and high) rather than league tables where shifts of a few places, perhaps as a result of nothing more than a methodological or data artefact, may be highlighted in the press and by policy makers. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.