What is Human Development and Why Do Levels Vary from Place to Place?

Concepts of Human Development

  • Definitions of development have traditionally been based on economic measures, but this has been challenged by broader definitions involving environmental, social and political measures on the quality of life.
  • GDP was once commonly used to measure human development, but it has since been recognised that the relationship between human contentment and levels of wealth and income are complex.
  • This is reflected in the Happy Planet Index which measures sustainable wellbeing and how well nations are achieving long and healthy lives.
  • Wealthy western countries, which are often seen as more successful, do not rank highly as their ecological footprints do not correlate with their life expectancy.
  • Many new measures record the progress of human development at all scales, considering human rights and welfare.
  • However, many dominant models, such as the Sharia Law, remain heavily contested.
  • Rosling who created Gapminder believes that improvements in environmental quality, health, life expectancy and human rights are more significant goals of development whilst economic growth is the best means to deliver them.
  • Economic growth is fundamental to provide a successful and developed society.
  • Education is central to economic development, human rights creation and the understanding of human wellbeing.
  • This view however is not universally shared as there are attitudes to gender equality in education which hinder access to education and standards of achievement.
  • This varies greatly amongst countries. For instance, more men than women are literate in the whole of India. However, there is national variation as Kerala in India has equal numbers of literate men and women.


Variations in Human Health and Life Expectancy

  • There are variations in health and life expectancy in the world which can be explained by differences in access to health care which involves the number of people per doctor. Smaller the number, better the care.
  • The USA requires citizens to pay for healthcare whereas the UK offers free accessible care.
  • Economic Development: Richer countries have better access to medical technology.
  • Education: People learn healthy eating and lifestyles as well as sanitation, contraception and childcare.
  • A good education system allows more people to become doctors and nurses.
  • Age: The old are more susceptible to diseases so in a population with a high percentage of elderly people, the death rate may be higher.
  • Food and Water Supply: This prevents the spread of disease and malnutrition.
  • Culture and Lifestyle: In Afghanistan, women cannot be seen by male doctors and cannot be educated to become nurses, limiting their healthcare. Traditional foods in the Mediterranean are culturally believed to increase life expectancy.
  • Variations thus result from differences in lifestyle, deprivation levels and the availability/cost of medical care.
  • There are internal variations in health and life expectancy within countries which correlate to ethnic variations, such as of the Aboriginal people in Australia, income levels and inequalities which influence lifestyle.


Development Targets and Policies

  • The relationship between economic and social development is complex and so depends upon decision made by governments to improve social progress.
  • This ranges from welfare states with high levels of social spending and totalitarian regimes run by elites who spend little on health and education.
  • IGOs such as the IMF have promoted neo-liberal views of development by promoting free trade, privatisation and the deregulation of financial markets.
  • Recent programmes have been aimed at improving environmental quality, health, education and human rights.