Development Indicators

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Simple and Composite

Many indicators may be used to quantify the level of 'development' of a country or region.

  • Simple indicators measure only one aspect of development and include GDP, GNP, GNI, adult literacy, life expectancy, daily calorie supply, infant mortality, cars per 1000 people, percentage of employment in agriculture, manufacturing and services and even the Big Mac index.
  • Composite indicators are more comprehensive as they measure more than one aspect of development. For example, the Human Development Index (HDI) gives a country a score from 0 to 1 using three variables based on adjusted income, education and life expectancy. On this basis Canada is the most developed nation, with an HDI of 0.971, and Niger is the least developed nation, with an HDI of 0.340. The Gender-Related Human Development Index (GRHDI) is similar to the HDI, but adjusted for gender inequality.
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Qualitative Indicators

By qualitative indicators of development we mean aspects of development that may not be easily quantifiable. Qualitative indicators have been developed due to the recent emphasis on measuring development in terms of issues, such as freedom, security and sustainability, rather than by statistics. Qualitative indicators may be more problematic but reflect more accurately the ways in which development is now viewed.

The use of both quantitative and qualitative indicators is necessary is assessing the level of development of a given country and together they can yield important and unexpected insights into development that neither quantitative nor qualitative indicators could generate on their own.

Limitations of indicators

A problem with many indicators is that they can be misleading because most are averages and therefore do not show how far the benefits of development are shared within a population. Another problem with most measures of development is that they do not show the harmful side-effects that can occur. For instance, a rise in car ownership indicates a general rise in living standards economically, but some of the population will suffer from increased noise and air pollution and may take the view that their actual living standards have fallen. As with all statistics, development indicators are sometimes incomplete or inaccurate. Also, for some countries data is not reliable.

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