Human Development Index (HDI) – UPSC IAS

In this article, I wanna walk you through the Human Development Index (HDI), IHDI, GII, GDI, MPI, for the UPSC IAS exam.

Human Development is the process of enlarging people’s choices. The ethos of planning in India has always been people-centric. However, the introduction of the human development paradigm in the planning mechanism ensured the focus of human development in the growth process.

As the country was opening up its economy in the 1990s, this central position was essential for policy planners to continue focussing on people who may be excluded from market-oriented growth. Additionally, it is extremely essential to incorporate human development into the planning process so that people can be empowered to hold their governments to account and Governments can be encouraged to be responsive to the needs of the people. (UNDP, 2010).

Thus, in 1990, the UNDP gave a call for a broad approach to improving human well-being that would cover all aspects of human life, for all people, in both high-income and developing countries, both now and in the future. It went far beyond narrowly defined economic development to care for the full flourishing of all human choices essential for the quality of life.

For a large country such as India, the utility of the study of human development is enhanced once the exercise is attempted at the state level. Apart from the diversity, an important reason for establishing a “benchmark” and subsequent “follow-up” on different aspects of human welfare at the state level is due to the dominant role played by the states in social sectors in the country.

Human Development Approach

For decades, countries’ levels of welfare were measured in terms of economic growth or an increase in per capita gross domestic product (GDP). While this approach has the advantage of being straightforward and easy to use, the failure of economic growth to improve the wellbeing of a significant proportion of people in many countries has underscored the need for a more encompassing measure that also captures human development.

The concept of human development emerged in the late 1980s based on the conceptual foundation provided by Dr. Amartya Sen and Dr. Mahbub ul Haq. The HD approach puts people at the center of the development agenda, where economic growth and wealth are considered means to development, not an end by itself. Put simply, the starting point for the human development approach is the idea that the purpose of development is to improve human lives by not only enhancing income but also expanding
the range of things that a person can be and can do, such as be healthy and well-nourished, be knowledgeable, and to participate in community life. Seen from this viewpoint, development is about removing the obstacles to what a person can do in life, obstacles such as lack of income, illiteracy, ill-health, lack of access to resources, or lack of civil and political freedoms.

The first Human Development Report defines human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices. To lead a long and healthy life, to be educated, and to enjoy a decent standard of living are the three most critical choices identified in the first HDR. Additional choices include political freedom, guaranteed human rights, and self-respect.

Human Development Index

HDI is part of the Human Development Report that is published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development:

  • a long and healthy life,
  • being knowledgeable
  • and have a decent standard of living.
Human development index

The HDI is the geometric mean of normalized indices for each of the three dimensions.

The health dimension is assessed by life expectancy at birth, component of the HDI is calculated using a minimum value of 20 years and a maximum value of 85 years.

The education component of the HDI is measured by means of years of schooling for adults aged 25 years and more and expected years of schooling for children of school entering age.

Mean years of schooling are estimated by UNESCO Institute for Statistics based on educational attainment data from censuses and surveys available in its database.

Expected years of schooling estimated are based on enrolment by age at all levels of education. Expected years of schooling are capped at 18 years.

The indicators are normalized using a minimum value of zero and maximum aspirational values of 15 (Mean years of schooling) and 18 (Expected years of schooling) years respectively.

The two indices are combined into an education index using arithmetic mean.

The standards of living dimension is measured by gross national income per capita.

The scores for the three HDI dimension indices are then aggregated into a composite index using geometric mean.

Classification of countries

  • Very high human development (HDI 0.900 and above)
  • High human development (HDI 0.800 – 0.899)
  • Medium human development (HDI 0.500 – 0.799)
  • Low human development (HDI below 0.500)

India lies in medium human development category.

Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI)

The IHDI indicates percentage loss in HDI due to inequality.

The Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) takes into account not only the average achievements of a country on health, education, and income, but also how those achievements are distributed among its citizens by “discounting” each dimension’s average value according to its level of inequality.


The IHDI is distribution-sensitive average level of human development.

Two countries with different distributions of achievements can have the same average HDI value.

Under perfect equality the IHDI is equal to the HDI, but falls below the HDI when inequality rises.

The difference between the IHDI and HDI is the human development cost of inequality, also termed – the overall loss to human development due to inequality.

The IHDI allows a direct link to inequalities in dimensions, it can inform policies towards inequality reduction.

It leads to a better understanding of inequalities across populations and their contribution to the overall human development cost.

Gender Inequality Index (GII)

The GII is an inequality index.

It measures gender inequalities in three important aspects of human development—

  • reproductive health, measured by maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates;
  • empowerment, measured by the proportion of parliamentary seats occupied by females and the proportion of adult females and males aged 25 years and older with at least some secondary education;
  • and economic status expressed as labor market participation and measured by labor force participation rate of female and male populations aged 15 years and older.

The GII sheds new light on the position of women in 162 countries;

it yields insights in gender gaps in major areas of human development.

The component indicators highlight areas in need of critical policy intervention and it stimulates proactive thinking and public policy to overcome systematic disadvantages of women.

 It measures the human development costs of gender inequality. Thus, the higher the GII value the more disparities between females and males.

Gender Development Index (GDI)

GDI measures disparities in the HDI by gender.

The GDI measures gender gaps in human development achievements by accounting for disparities between women and men in three basic dimensions of human development—health, knowledge, and living standards using the same component indicators as in the HDI.

Health measured by female and male life expectancy at birth.

Education measured by female and male expected years of schooling for children and female and male mean years of schooling for adults ages 25 and older.


Command over economic resources measured by female and male estimated earned income.

The GDI is the ratio of the HDIs calculated separately for females and males using the same methodology as in the HDI.

The goalposts are also the same except for life expectancy at birth where the minimum and maximum goalposts are varied (minimum of 22.5 years and a maximum of 87.5 years for female; and the corresponding values for males are 17.5 years and 82.5 years.) The rationale is to take into account a biological advantage averaging five years of life that females have over males.

Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) published for the first time in the 2010 report, complements monetary measures of poverty by considering overlapping deprivations suffered by people at the same time.

MPI captures the multiple deprivations that people in developing countries face in their health, education, and standard of living.

Multidimensional Poverty Index

The Index identifies deprivations across the same three dimensions as the HDI and shows the number of people who are multi-dimensionally poor (suffering deprivations in 33% of weighted indicators) and the number of deprivations with which poor household typically contend with.

 It can be deconstructed by region, ethnicity and other groupings as well as by dimensions, making it an apt tool for policymakers.

The MPI can help the effective allocation of resources by making possible the targeting of those with the greatest intensity of poverty.

It can help addressing MDGs strategically and monitoring of impacts of policy intervention.

The MPI can be adapted to the national level using indicators and weights that make sense for the region or the country, it can be adopted for national poverty eradication programs, and it can be used to study changes over time.

The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) was developed in 2010 by the Oxford Poverty & Human development initiative (OPHI) and the United Nations Development programme, and uses different factors to determine poverty beyond income-based lists.

It replaced the previous Human Poverty Index. The global MPI is released annually by OPHI and the results published on its website.

Human Development Report 2020

India ranked 131 among 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) for 2019, slipping two places from the previous year, according to the Human Development Report (HDR) 2020 released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The 2020 Report has introduced the planetary pressures-adjusted Human Development Index, which adjusts the standard Human Development Index (HDI) by a country’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.

If the Index were adjusted to assess the planetary pressures caused by each nation’s development, India would move up eight places in the ranking, according to the report.

Important points related to the index
  • Norway ranked first in this index, followed by Ireland, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Iceland respectively.
  • Talking about the neighboring countries of India, Bhutan was ranked 129, which is better than India, followed by Bangladesh ranked 133, Nepal ranked 142 and Pakistan ranked 154.
  • Singapore was ranked 11, Saudi Arabia 40, and Malaysia was at 62 in the global index, representing the top bracket among the Asian countries with “very high human development”.
  • Sri Lanka (72), Thailand (79), China (85) and Indonesia and Philippines (both 107), and Vietnam (117), among others, were “high human development” countries.
  • China’s net emissions stood at 8 gigatons, 34% less than China’s terrestrial emissions.
  • The difference between net emissions and terrestrial emissions in the sub-Saharan region has been 15%.
  • The report also said that no country could achieve high levels of development without over-filling on natural resources.
Other Indices
  • Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index:
    • The IHDI indicates a percentage loss in HDI due to inequality.
    • For India, the IHDI value for 2019 is 0.537 (16.8% overall loss).
  • Gender Development Index:
    • GDI measures disparities in the HDI by gender.
    • For India, the GDI value for 2019 is 0.820 (World: 0.943).
  • Gender Inequality Index:
    • GII presents a composite measure of gender inequality using three dimensions:
      • Reproductive health,
      • Empowerment and
      • The labour market.
    • In GII, India is at 123rd rank. Last year, it was ranked 122nd out of 162 countries.
  • Multidimensional Poverty Index:
    • MPI captures the multiple deprivations that people in developing countries face in their health, education, and standard of living.
    • The most recent survey data publicly available for India’s MPI estimation refer to 2015-2016. In India, 27.9% of the population (3,77,492 thousand people) are multidimensionally poor, while an additional 19.3% are classified as vulnerable to multidimensional poverty (2,60,596 thousand people).

Human Development Report 2019

India was ranked 129 out of 189 countries on the 2019 Human Development Index (HDI) improving from the 130th position in 2018.

The focus of the 2019 Report is on ‘Inequality in Human Development’.

  • Top Performers in 2019
    • Norway, Switzerland, Ireland occupied the top three positions in that order.
    • Germany is placed fourth along with Hong Kong, and Australia secured the fifth rank on the global ranking.
  • India’s Neighbours
    • Sri Lanka (71) and China (85) were higher up the rank scale.
    • Bhutan (134), Bangladesh (135), Myanmar (145), Nepal (147), Pakistan (152), and Afghanistan (170) were ranked lower on the list.
  • Region-Wise Performance
    • South Asia was the fastest-growing region in human development progress witnessing a 46% growth over 1990-2018, followed by East Asia and the Pacific at 43%.
  • India’s Performance
    • India’s HDI value increased by 50% (from 0.431 to 0.647), which places it above the average for other South Asian countries (0.642).
    • In India, between 1990 and 2018, life expectancy at birth increased by 11.6 years, mean years of schooling increased by 3.5 years, and expected years of schooling increased by 4.7 years. Per capita incomes rose by over 250%.

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