Global patterns of development

Development is the process of change which improves the well-being of a society in terms of material wealth and quality of life. There are different types, including:

  • economic development which involves increased employment, income and usually industrial growth
  • social development which involves having better standards of living, access to education, health, clean water, housing and leisure
  • environmental development which involves improving or restoring natural environments
  • political development which involves developing stable and effective representative governments

Measuring development

In order to measure development, geographers use a number of indicators. Economic indicators include:

  • Gross National income (GNI) per capita - the value of a country's goods and services, divided by the number of people living in that country
  • unemployment - the total number of people out of work in a country

Social indicators include:

  • access to safe water - the percentage of people who have access to safe, clean water
  • life expectancy - the average age that a person may live to
  • infant mortality rate - the number of babies who don't survive past the age of 1 per 1,000 live births
  • literacy rate - the percentage of adults who can read and write

Human Development Index

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite measure published annually by the United Nations. It uses average life expectancy, level of education and income to measure development. Every country is given a score between 0 and 1, the closer to 1, the more developed a country is.

The countries with the highest HDI are in North America, Europe and Australasia. Countries with the lowest HDI are in Africa and south Asia.

Limitations of measures of development

Using only one indicator of development can be misleading. For example:

  • Zimbabwe is a low-income country (LIC), although 84% of people living there can read and write.
  • Birth rates can be affected by government policies, eg China's One Child Policy (1979-2015).
  • GNI per capita only shows economic development and says nothing about whether people in a country have a good standard of living. It is an average and may hide differences in wealth within a country.
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HDI is widely recognised as a good measure of development since it takes into account more than one indicator and includes economic and social indicators.

Patterns of development

In 1980 the Brandt Report divided the world into the poor south and the rich north. Since that time global patterns of development have become more complex, with countries such as Brazil, India and China developing rapidly.

The HDI index map illustrates the complexities that the Brandt line fails to display.

The Brandt line separates the world into the rich north and poor south. The line separates Europe from Africa, and north Asia from south Asia. Australasia is considered part of the rich north.

Classifying levels of development

The World Bank classifies the level of development of a country by using gross national income (GNI) per capita. It classifies countries into:

The development continuum is a sliding scale from least to most developed, with lots of intermediates such as the newly-industrialised countries. NICs are countries that have recently seen a massive growth in their manufacturing industries. They include Mexico, India and Malaysia.

(*figures for 2015)