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Home > Geography > International issues > Contrasts in development


Contrasts in development


Development indices

A development index (plural: indices) is a scale of development used to measure a country's performance according to specific development indicators. While some countries may appear to be developed according to some indices, they may not appear so according to others. The table shows two examples.

Development indicators

CountryDevelopment indicators

Vietnam and Pakistan

Both countries have a similar per capita GDP. But life expectancy and literacy are considerably higher in Vietnam than they are in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia and Croatia

Saudi Arabia has a per capita GDP comparable to that of Croatia. However, in Saudi Arabia there is a much greater inequality between men and women (when considering access to wealth, education and political power) than in Croatia. Saudi Arabia might be considered lower than Croatia on a human development index, though it is equal on an economic development index.

Problems with indices

Development indices need to be used with care, as they can be misleading. For example:

  • Many indices are averages for the whole population of a country. This means that indices, which suggest a highly developed country, do not reveal substantial inequalities between different segments of society (for example, a portion of the population could be living below the poverty level or without access to basic services).
  • In some countries the data used in indices are out-of-date or hard to collect. Some countries do not wish to have certain index data collected - for example many countries do not publish statistics reflecting an accurate account of the number of people who emigrate from their country.
Buildings in Karachi
A street in Ho Chi Minh City

To balance inaccuracies indices tend to be an amalgamation of many different indicators. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) is a weighted mix of indices that show: longevity (life expectancy), knowledge (adult literacy and education) and standard of living (GDP per capita). As Vietnam has a higher literacy rate and life expectancy than Pakistan it has much higher HDI value, although it has a similar per capita GDP.

HDI is measured between 0 and 1. The USA has an HDI of 0.994 whereas Kenya has an HDI of 0.474.

HDI is declining in parts of Africa due to the HIV / AIDS epidemic.

In an exam you may be given some development indicators for different countries. Read the information for each country carefully. Always look at all the data presented. Don't jump to conclusions about a country on the basis of one or two indicators



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