This year’s report also looked at which countries have demonstrated the greatest growth in the human development index. And perhaps counterintuitively, the report found a very small relationship between economic growth and improvements in health and education over the years, especially in less developed countries.
In other words, in many places fast economic growth isn’t being realized by the people of that country.
Here is a chart, extracted from the report, in which each dot represents a country. Per-capita income growth is plotted along the horizontal axis, and the elements of human development not tied to income (that is, literacy and life expectancy).
Human Development Index: More News
Take a revealing comparison between China — the world the fastest growing economy during the past 30 years — and Tunisia. In 1970 a baby girl born in Tunisia could expect to live 55 years; one born in China, 63 years. Since then, China’s per capita GDP has increased at a breakneck pace of 8 percent annually, while Tunisia’s has grown at 3 percent. But a girl born today in Tunisia can expect to live 76 years, a year longer than a girl born in China. And while only 52 percent of Tunisian children were enrolled in school in 1970, today’s gross enrollment ratio is 78 percent, considerably higher than China’s 68 percent.
China has been the second best performer over the past 40 years in terms of HDI improvement and is the only state on the report’s’ Top 10 Movers’ list due to improvements in income rather than health or education. China’s per capita income (taken to mean a nation the standard of living) has increased 21 times since 1970. However, it was far from the area’s top performer this year in schooling or average life expectancy.
India, in some senses, faces a similar problem. Although the country has experienced tremendous growth in recent years and is often painted as a people-friendly alternative to China, the U.N. report shows that India’s gender equality ratings for both education and health are worse than the interests of any of its neighbor, Pakistan. The report shows that India has managed to raise the average life expectancy of its people by 16 years over the past 40 years despite some failures.
At the report’s statistical poles lie Norway with 81 years of life expectancy and an average income of roughly US$58, 000 and, in stark contrast, Zimbabwe with an average life span of 47 and US$176 GDP per capita.
That isn’t to say that richer countries do not generally have more developed human capital; absolute levels of income do indeed correlate with levels of human development. It’s just that, for whatever reason, there is little relationship between improvements in national wealth and improvements in education and health.
The report offers a few possible explanations for this puzzle, including that there might be a long lag between economic growth and the kind of social services and infrastructure that could give rise to better national health and education systems. There also may be many other country-specific variables — like cultural differences — that mask a possible relationship between wealth and human development.