Human Development

Human development refers to the process of improving people's well-being, capabilities, and opportunities to lead a fulfilling and dignified life. It encompasses various aspects of human life, including health, education, income, social inclusion, empowerment, and human rights. Human development goes beyond economic growth and material wealth to focus on enhancing people's quality of life, expanding their choices, and enabling them to reach their full potential as individuals and members of society.


Three indicators of human development

• Long and healthy life • Gaining knowledge • Leading a decent life.

The three indicators of human development, as commonly outlined by the Human Development Index (HDI) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), are:

1.     Life Expectancy at Birth: Life expectancy at birth is a measure of the average number of years a person is expected to live from birth.

2.     Mean Years of Education (or Expected Years of Schooling): Mean years of education is a measure of the average number of years of schooling received by adults aged 25 years and older.

3.     Gross National Income (GNI) per Capita (or Income Index): Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is a measure of the average income earned by individuals within a country, adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP) to account for differences in the cost of living between countries

These three indicators collectively capture the dimensions of human development related to health, education, and income, reflecting the ability of individuals to lead long and healthy lives, gain knowledge and skills, and achieve a decent standard of living. The Human Development Index (HDI) combines these indicators into a composite index to provide a comprehensive measure of human development across countries, enabling comparisons of development levels and progress over time.



The four pillars of human development

 • Equity • Sustainability • Productivity • Empowerment

The four pillars of human development, as outlined by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), are:

1.     Equity: Equity refers to the fair distribution of resources, opportunities, and benefits among individuals and groups within a society. It emphasizes the importance of addressing disparities, inequalities, and discrimination based on factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, disability, and geographic location. Equity ensures that all individuals have equal access to essential goods, services, and opportunities, enabling them to reach their full potential and participate fully in society. Promoting equity is essential for building inclusive, cohesive, and just societies where everyone can thrive.

2.     Sustainability: Sustainability involves meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It encompasses environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social sustainability. Environmental sustainability focuses on protecting natural resources, ecosystems, and biodiversity, reducing pollution and waste, and mitigating climate change to preserve the planet for future generations. Economic sustainability involves promoting sustainable economic growth, resource management, and development practices that support long-term prosperity and well-being. Social sustainability entails fostering inclusive and resilient communities, promoting social cohesion, and ensuring that development benefits are equitably distributed across society.

3.     Productivity: Productivity refers to the efficient and effective use of resources, technology, and innovation to enhance economic growth, improve living standards, and create opportunities for sustainable development. It involves increasing the output of goods and services while minimizing inputs, waste, and inefficiencies. Productivity growth is essential for boosting economic competitiveness, creating jobs, reducing poverty, and enhancing overall prosperity. Investing in education, skills development, infrastructure, research and development, and technology innovation can drive productivity gains and contribute to human development.

4.     Empowerment: Empowerment involves enabling individuals and communities to exercise agency, voice, and control over their lives, decisions, and destinies. It encompasses political empowerment, economic empowerment, social empowerment, and gender empowerment. Political empowerment entails promoting democratic governance, civic participation, human rights, and rule of law to ensure that people have a say in shaping policies and institutions that affect their lives. Economic empowerment involves providing economic opportunities, access to resources, financial inclusion, and entrepreneurship support to enable individuals to improve their economic status and livelihoods. Social empowerment focuses on advancing social justice, equity, inclusion, and rights-based approaches to address discrimination, marginalization, and social exclusion. Gender empowerment aims to achieve gender equality and women's empowerment by addressing gender-based disparities, stereotypes, and discrimination, promoting women's rights, and ensuring equal opportunities for all genders.

By addressing these four pillars of human development—equity, sustainability, productivity, and empowerment—policymakers, governments, and development practitioners can promote inclusive, sustainable, and equitable development that improves the well-being and quality of life for all individuals and communities.


Approaches to the Human Development

Here are the four approaches commonly used in human development:

  1. The Income Approach:
    • The income approach focuses on economic indicators, particularly per capita income or Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, as a measure of development. It emphasizes the importance of economic growth and material wealth in improving living standards and well-being. However, it has been criticized for its narrow focus on economic factors and its inability to capture non-monetary aspects of development such as health, education, and social inclusion.
  1. The Welfare Approach:
    • The welfare approach broadens the scope of development beyond income to include various dimensions of well-being, such as health, education, social protection, and quality of life. It emphasizes the importance of social policies, safety nets, and public services in enhancing human welfare and reducing poverty and inequality. The welfare approach recognizes that development should not only focus on economic growth but also on improving the overall welfare and quality of life of individuals and communities.
  1. The Basic Needs Approach:
    • The basic needs approach prioritizes meeting essential human needs, such as food, shelter, healthcare, education, and employment, as the foundation of development. It emphasizes the importance of ensuring access to basic services and resources necessary for human survival and dignity. The basic needs approach places a strong emphasis on poverty reduction, social equity, and social justice, recognizing that development should prioritize the well-being of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.
  1. The Capabilities Approach:
    • The capabilities approach, developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, focuses on expanding individuals' capabilities and freedoms to lead lives they value. It emphasizes the importance of enhancing people's capabilities to achieve valuable functioning, such as being healthy, educated, employed, socially and politically empowered, and able to participate in society. The capabilities approach emphasizes human agency, choice, and the ability to live a life of dignity and fulfillment, rather than solely focusing on income or material resources.

Each approach offers valuable insights into different aspects of human development and complements one another in understanding the multidimensional nature of development. While the income approach highlights the importance of economic growth, the welfare approach emphasizes broader measures of well-being. The basic needs approach underscores the importance of meeting essential human needs, while the capabilities approach emphasizes the importance of expanding individuals' capabilities and freedoms to live lives they value. Integrating these approaches allows for a more comprehensive understanding of human development and informs policies and interventions aimed at promoting inclusive, sustainable, and equitable development for all.



In the Human Development Index (HDI), each of the three dimensions—health, education, and standard of living—is given equal weightage of 1/3. This means that each dimension contributes equally to the overall HDI score.

Here's how the weightage is distributed across the dimensions:

  1. Health Dimension (Life Expectancy at Birth): 1/3 weightage
  2. Education Dimension (Mean Years of Schooling and Expected Years of Schooling): 1/3 weightage
  3. Standard of Living Dimension (Gross National Income per Capita): 1/3 weightage

By giving equal weightage to each dimension, the HDI aims to provide a balanced assessment of human development that encompasses health, education, and standard of living. This approach acknowledges the importance of each dimension in contributing to overall human well-being and reflects the multidimensional nature of development.

The HDI calculation formula combines the indicators within each dimension into a composite index, and then averages the three indices to obtain the final HDI score. This standardized approach allows for consistent comparisons of human development levels across countries and regions, facilitating the assessment of progress and disparities in human development worldwide.