The Living World
21 Topics | 21 Quizzes

Social and Economic Measures of Development

Measuring development can be complicated because it involves many aspects. To measure it accurately and fairly, we rely on various indicators, which are divided into economic or social categories.

  • Economic indicators include factors such as employment, income, wealth, savings, house building, spending, trade, resources and pollution control.
  • Social indicators include factors such as quality of life, well-being, equality, access to healthcare and education, life expectancy, birth control, diversity and heritage.

Generally, when measuring development, we use a variety of indicators simultaneously. This gives us a holistic view of a country’s development.

Historical Context

IndicatorDefinitionMeasure TypeLimitation
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)The total value of the output of goods and services produced in a year.Economic – WealthIgnores the welfare component; the value of goods may negatively impact welfare.
Gross National Income (GNI)The total income received by a country from its residents and businesses.Economic – Wealth• Focuses solely on income

• Outliers can skew the figures
GNI per CapitaThe value of a country’s income divided by its population.Economic – Wealth• As an average, it can distort figures

• Does not measure quality of life
Human Development Index (HDI)A United Nations metric considering life expectancy, literacy rates, education level and GNI, scoring between 0 (least developed) and 1 (most developed).Social and Economic• Relies on potentially unreliable or skewed statistics

• Does not account for differences within a country
Literacy RatePercentage of adults who can read and write.Social – Education• Difficult to monitor in LICs

• Can be affected by conflict and poverty
Life ExpectancyThe average number of years a person is expected to live.Social – Health• Data reliability issues

• Skewed by high infant mortality rates
People per DoctorAverage number of individuals per doctor.Social – HealthDoes not account for alternative healthcare access methods (e.g. online or phone care).
Birth RateNumber of births per 1,000 people annually.Social – Women’s Rights, Education• Low rates do not always indicate development

• Can be distorted by policies (e.g. in China)
Infant Mortality RateNumber of infants dying before age one per 1,000 live births annually.Social – HealthUnderreporting, particularly in remote areas of LICs and NEEs.
Death RateNumber of deaths per 1,000 people annually.Social – Health• Affected by pandemics, harsh weather, or conflict

• Generally less reliable than birth rate
Access to Safe WaterPercentage of people who have access to safe drinking water.Social – Health• Data collection in LICs isn’t likely to be accurate

• High costs may drive people to use unsafe water supplies

Key Terms

DevelopmentThe process of a country becoming wealthier or having better services, such as healthcare.
IndicatorPieces of information that tell us how developed a country is.
HolisticThe belief that the parts of something are interconnected and best understood in relation to the whole.
Natural changeThe difference between births and deaths, resulting in either a population increase or decrease.

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