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The UN Human Development Index - The Highest and Lowest Rated Countries, Updated 2014

Updated on December 30, 2014

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development, including: (a) life expectancy, (b) quality of education (or access to and participation in thereof) , and (c) per capita income as connected to a decent standard of living.

How was the Human Development Index developed?

The Human Development Index was developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and other development scholars in 1990 as part of the Human Development Programme. The measurement was devised for the explicit purpose "to shift the focus of development economics from national income accounting to people-centered policies."

To produce the Human Development Reports, Mahbub ul Haq worked with Paul Streeten, Frances Stewart, Gustav Ranis, Keith Griffin, Sudhir Anand, Meghnad Desai, as well as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. They worked together to provide the underlying conceptual framework for the development measurement.

What are the Main Components of the HDI?

The Human Development Index (HDI) consists of three main components including (a) health, measured in terms of life expectancy at birth; (b) education, measured in terms of mean and expected years of schooling; and (c) relative wealth (or standard of living), measured in terms of gross national income.

The Health Component

This part of the HDI measure uses age of death statistics to report the average number of years a citizen of a given nation might expect to live after birth. Interestingly, of the top 20 countries for 2014, only three had an average life expectancy of less than 80 years with the USA ranking the lowest of the 20 at 78.9 years.

The Education Component

The second part of the HDI measure is broken into two figures that help paint a picture of the amount of education a citizen of a given nation might expect. The figures used to calculate relative development in education include (a) mean years of schooling and (b) expected years of schooling. As reported on the HDI website, mean and expected years are taken from estimates gathered by UNESCO Institute for Statistics based on educational attainment data from censuses and surveys available in its database.The indicators are normalized using a minimum value of zero and maximum aspirational values of 15 and 18 years respectively. The two indices are combined into an education index using arithmetic mean.

The Standard of Living Component

The third component of the human development index is measured by gross national income per capita. According to the HDI website, "The goalpost for minimum income is $100 (PPP) and the maximum is $75,000 (PPP). The minimum value for GNI per capita, set at $100, is justified by the considerable amount of unmeasured subsistence and nonmarket production in economies close to the minimum that is not captured in the official data. The HDI uses the logarithm of income, to reflect the diminishing importance of income with increasing GNI."

Limitations and Weaknesses of the Human Development Index

While it has proven to be a valuable tool in analyzing general conditions of countries around the world, the HDI is not without limitations. Some argue that the scope of the HDI is too narrow, whereas others dislike even the basic design. Even officers of the HDI admit its shortcomings, "the HDI does not reflect on inequalities, poverty, human security, empowerment, etc." Staff writers of Economics offer the following list of limitations and weaknesses:

  • Wide divergence within countries. For example, countries like China and Kenya have widely different HDI scores depending on the region in question. (e.g. north China poorer than southeast)
  • HDI reflect long-term changes (e.g. life expectancy) and may not respond to recent short-term changes.
  • Higher National wealth GNI may not necessarily increase economic welfare, it depends how it is spent.
  • Also higher GNI per capita may hide widespread inequality within a country. Some countries with higher real GNI per capita have high levels of inequality (e.g. Russia, Saudi Arabia)
  • However, HDI can highlight countries with similar GNI per capita but different levels of economic development.
  • Economic welfare depends on several other factors, such as – threat of war, levels of pollution, access to clean drinking water e.t.c.

Human Development Index Highest Rated Countries, 2014

The top 20 rated nations in total human development for 2014 (based on 2013 surveys) as rated by the United Nation's Human Development Index were reported as follows:

  1. Norway
  2. Australia
  3. Switzerland
  4. Netherlands
  5. United States
  6. Germany
  7. New Zealand
  8. Canada
  9. Singapore
  10. Denmark
  11. Ireland
  12. Sweden
  13. Iceland
  14. United Kingdom
  15. Hong Kong, China (SAR)
  16. South Korea
  17. Japan
  18. Liechtenstein
  19. Israel
  20. France

Human Development Index Lowest Rated Countries, 2014

The 20 lowest rated countries in terms of the Human Development Index for 2014 included the following:

  1. (187) Niger
  2. (186) Congo, Democratic Republic of the
  3. (185) Central African Republic
  4. (184) Chad
  5. (183) Sierra Leone
  6. (182) Eritrea
  7. (181) Burkina Faso
  8. (180) Burundi
  9. (179) Guinea
  10. (178) Mozambique
  11. (177) Guinea-Bissau
  12. (176) Mali
  13. (175) Liberia
  14. (174) Malawi
  15. (173) Ethiopia
  16. (172) Gambia
  17. (171) The Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire)
  18. (170) Djibouti
  19. (169) Afghanistan
  20. (168) Haiti


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    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      That is very interesting. And while there are limitations, acknowledging them is the first step to improving the Index and its predictive and prescriptive benefits.