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Inequality and the Human Development Index

Elizabeth Anne Stanton, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) is a country-level measure of social welfare based on national values for average life expectancy, rates of adult literacy and school enrollment, and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. HDI is commonly used by scholars, policy-makers, and development professionals to compare levels of development among nations and to gauge each nation's progress in development. Since HDI is based entirely on national averages it lacks any information about the distribution of health, education, or income within countries. The distribution of access to key resources is an important determinant both of the effect of average levels of health, education, and income on absolute levels of deprivation, and—as effects of inequality on environmental degradation and health have been well-documented—of the aggregate well-being of a population as a whole. Absent some measure of inequality, HDI is severely hampered in its ability to depict accurately the levels and changes in social welfare. My dissertation, entitled "Inequality and the Human Development Index," examines the relationship between inequality and human well-being; reviews the history of the HDI and the literature attempting to include distribution in measures of social welfare; critiques several existing measures of inequality related to HDI; and proposes alternative indices that would capture inequality in the measurement of human development.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Stanton, Elizabeth Anne, "Inequality and the Human Development Index" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3289279.