Human Development Index

composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a number from 0 to 1 (higher is better) used to compare different countries. It is published by United Nations Development Programme. It is used to rank countries into different groups for example developed and developing countries.

World map
World map by category of Human Development Index in 2019 (published in 2020).
  Very high (≥ 0.800)
  High (0.700–0.799)
  Medium (0.550–0.699)
  Low (≤ 0.549)
  Data unavailable

The Human Development Index uses different measurements of a population:


HDI vs. ecological footprint

The Human Development Index has been criticized. It does not include any ecological considerations. It focuses on national performance and ranking. Its categorisation of 'low', 'medium', 'high' or 'very high' human development countries is suspect.[1]

Economists Hendrik Wolff, Howard Chong and Maximilian Auffhammer think that often the data which is used to construct the statistics for the HDI is wrong.[1] According to them, there are three sources of error in the data:

  1. An error occurred when updating the data
  2. Formulas used to calculate the data were changed when the data was updated
  3. Thresholds which classify a country's development status changed

They found that 11 %, 21% and 34% of countries are currently misclassified in the development bins due to the three sources of data error. The authors suggest that the United Nations should stop classifying countries into development bins because the cut-off values seem arbitrary. They have the potential to misguide politicians, investors, charity donors and the public who use the HDI.

In 2010 the UNDP reacted to the criticism and updated the thresholds to classify nations as low, medium, and high human development countries. In a comment to The Economist in early January 2011, the Human Development Report Office responded[2] to a January 6, 2011 article in the magazine[3] which discusses the Wolff et al. paper. The Human Development Report Office states that they undertook a systematic revision of the methods used for the calculation of the HDI and that the new methodology directly addresses the critique by Wolff et al. in that it generates a system for continuous updating of the human development categories whenever formula or data revisions take place.

The HDI uses a weighted average for the different values. This means that it can be used - to some extent - to compare countries. It cannot be used to show the problems inside a country. Also the index only takes into account people of 20 years or older. This leaves out problems such as infant mortality and children who do not reach that age.

Economist Bryan Kaplan points out another problem: Things needed in everyday life are underrepresented, education is overrepresented. Unless the whole population is made of students and pupils, it is not possible to reach the maximum score for the education parameter. At the moment, a Scandinavian country is at the top of the list. This means that the HDI measures "how Scandiavian" a country is. It would also mean that the country at the top of the list has no potential for improvement, which is certainly not the case.[4]

2011 data


The 2011 Human Development Report was released on 2 November 2011. Below is the list of the "Very High Human Development" countries: as suggested above, the list is open to some obvious criticisms. Lichtenstein is just a city, and Hong Kong is not a country.

Note: The green arrows ( ), red arrows ( ), and blue dashes ( ) mean changes in rank when compared to the new 2011 data HDI for 2010 – published in the 2011 report (p. 131).



  1. 1.0 1.1 Wolff, Hendrik; Chong, Howard; Auffhammer, Maximilian (2011). "Classification, Detection and Consequences of Data Error: Evidence from the Human Development Index". Economic Journal. 121 (553): 843–870. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0297.2010.02408.x. hdl:1813/71597. S2CID 18069132.
  2. "UNDP Human Development Report Office's comments". The Economist. January 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-02-11. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  3. "The Economist (pages 60–61 in the issue of Jan 8, 2011)". January 6, 2011.
  4. Bryan Caplan: Against the Human Development Index, Commentary on Library of Economics and Liberty,May 22, 2009