Human Development Report by UNDP

Here is how HDI has performed in last 3 decades


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: particulars of report

Mains level: human development


  • India, belonging to the medium HDI category, shows dimensional inequalities similar to or slightly below the average figures in the category, except in the case of education where it is high and closer to the low HDI countries. The inequalities in health and education are more than twice that of the very high and high HDI categories.

Why in news?

What is the meaning of human development?

  • Human development is defined as the process of enlarging people’s freedoms and opportunities and improving their well-being. Human development is about the real freedom ordinary people have to decide who to be, what to do, and how to live.

What is meant by Human Development Index?

  • The HDI is a summary measure of human development. The HDI is a summary composite measure of a country’s average achievements in three basic aspects of human development: health, knowledge and standard of living.

Who publishes HDI?

  • The Human Development Report (HDR) is an annual Human Development Index report published by the Human Development Report Office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

HDIDimensions of the Human Development Index

  • Long and healthy life: The long and healthy life dimension is measured by life expectancy at birth. The life expectancy at birth is a statistical measure that an average individual is expected to live based on certain demographic factors such as the year of birth and current age.
  • Education: This is a second dimension in the HDI. The indicators of education are the expected years of schooling and the mean years of schooling. According to the UN, the average maximum years of schooling is 18 years, while the mean maximum years of schooling is 15 years.
  • Standard of living: The standard of living is usually measured by the gross national income (GNI) per capita. The GNI indicates the total domestic and foreign output created by the residents of a certain country.

What are the 4 indicators of HDI?

  • Mean years of schooling
  • Expected years of schooling
  • Life expectancy at birth
  • Gross national income (GNI) per capita

Which Countries Have the Highest HDI?

In the latest HDI ranking, from 2022, Switzerland finished first with an HDI value of 0.962.


Issues in HDI

(1) An incomplete indicator

  • Human development is incomplete without human freedom and that while the need for qualities judgement is clear; there is no simple quantitative measure available yet to capture the many aspects of human freedom.
  • HDI also does not specifically reflect quality of life factors, such as empowerment movements or overall feelings of security or happiness.

(2) Limited idea of development

  • The HDI is not reflecting the human development idea accurately.
  • It is an index restricted to the socio-economic sphere of life; the political and civil spheres are in the most part kept separate.
  • Hence there is a sub-estimation of inequality among countries, which means that this dimension is not being taken into consideration appropriately.

(3) A vague concept

  • Concerning data quality and the exact construction of the index HDI is conceptually weak and empirically unsound.
  • This strong critic comes from the idea that both components of HDI are problematic. The GNP in developing countries suffers from incomplete coverage, measurement errors and biases.
  • The definition and measurement of literacy are different among countries and also, this data has not been available since 1970 in a significant number of countries.

(4) Data quality issues

  • The HDI, as a combination of only four relatively simple indicators, doesn’t only raise a questions what other indicators should be included, but also how to ensure quality and comparable input data.
  • It is logical that the UNDP try to collect their data from international organizations concentrating in collecting data in specific fields.
  • Quality and trustworthiness of those data is disputable, especially when we get the information from UN non-democratic members, as for example Cuba or China.

(5) A tool for mere comparison

  • The concept of HDI was set up mainly for relative comparison of countries in one particular time.
  • HDI is much better when distinguishing between countries with low and middle human development, instead of countries at the top of the ranking.
  • Therefore, the original notion was not to set up an absolute ranking, but let’s quite free hands in comparison of the results.

(6) Development has to be greener

  • The human development approach has not adequately incorporated environmental conditions which may threaten long-term achievements on human development. The most pervasive failure was on environmental sustainability.
  • However, for the first time in 2020, the UNDP introduced a new metric to reflect the impact caused by each country’s per-capita carbon emissions and its material footprint.
  • This is Planetary Pressures-adjusted HDI or PHDI. It measured the amount of fossil fuels, metals and other resources used to make the goods and services it consumes.

(7) Wealth can never equate welfare

  • Higher national wealth does not indicate welfare. GNI may not necessarily increase economic welfare; it depends on how it is spent.
  • For example, if a country spends more on military spending – this is reflected in higher GNI, but welfare could actually be lower.

Importance of HDI

  • Multidimensionality: It is one of the few multidimensional indices as it includes indicators such as literacy rate, enrolment ratio, life expectancy rate, infant mortality rate, etc.
  • True yardstick: It acts as a true yardstick to measure development in real sense.
  • Helps in measuring a nation’s well-being: Unlike per capital income, which only indicates that a rise in per capital income implies economic development; HDI considers many other vital social indicators and helps in measuring a nation’s well-being.

Value addition line

People are the real wealth of a nation. The basic objective of development should be to create an enabling environment for people to live long, healthy and creative lives. This may appear to be a simple truth.


  • To sum up, the introduction of the HDI three decades ago was an early attempt to address the shortcomings in conventional measures of wellbeing.
  • The HDI has continued to attract widespread attention and motivates the work of activists, scholars and political leaders around the world.
  • The HDI compels us to ask what matters more, the quantitative expansion of an economy, or the qualitative improvement in the capabilities of society.
  • Indeed the revival of interest in this subject at the highest levels of government is the need of the hour.

Mains question

Q. What do you understand by human development? Critically analyse the human development index given by UNDP.


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