Human development index

The Human Development Index, also known as the HDI, is an evaluation of several different indicators that shows achievement in human life and well-being overall.[1] HDI is an overall view of human development and works to show whether a country is developed, developing, or underdeveloped.[2] Generally, having a high HDI is linked to a high quality of life. Indicators for HDI include measures of GDP, life expectancy, adult literacy, and school enrollment.[3] Specifically, it is the years that a person is expected to attend school that is used as the measure for HDI.[4] The HDI value for a country is a single number that is less than one. In 2013, the UN determined that the country with the highest HDI value was Norway, with a value of 0.944.[4]

The map below shows HDI values from 2013 in different regions over the world. Data taken from the United Nations.[5]

Measuing HDI is effective as it is more strongly correlated to quality of life than GDP as GDP looks solely at economic concerns, whereas HDI looks at three different dimensions of quality of life. These dimensions are economic well-being, levels of knowledge, and health.[2] As well, HDI includes the negative effects of high energy use, such as pollution levels from particular fuels being used. Climate change is also involved in measures of HDI. After a certain point of energy use a decline in quality of life will occur due to extreme amounts of pollution and climate change.[3]


Although effective, HDI is not a perfect indicator of human well-being and quality of life. HDI is not able to easily show inequalities, even though they do exist.[1] Primarily one can see significant differences in quality of life, especially in less developed counties, between men and women. This isn't represented well in HDI alone, but the Gender Inequality Index subdivides indicators for HDI into how well that need is met for women and men.[6] As well, HDI doesn't reflect on levels of poverty, human security, empowerment, or ecological conerns.[1] The HDI has also been criticized for focusing on national performance and ranking instead of also recognizing countries on a global scale.[2]

HDI and Energy Use

Generally speaking, more developed countries generally have a greater HDI as they are better able to provide citizens with the widespread amenities that promote a high level of development. This leads to a correlation between energy use and HDI. More developed countries have higher HDIs, so generally countries with greater energy use boast higher levels of human development. Primarily the growth of urban centers with increased GDP and a growing economy increases energy use and HDI at the same time. As people move from the rural areas to urban cities in search of higher paying jobs and further education, they have more constant access to electricity. More people in urban centers leads to greater energy use. In rural areas, this lack of electricity access can be detrimental to HDI values. In areas where electricity access is improved, it becomes easier for communities to provide better schooling and medical facilities. As well, electricity in rural homes increases quality of life as it reduces the need to burn more harmful fuels. Overall, more access to electricity and therefore higher energy use in countries can be an indicator of higher or increasing HDI levels.

HDI Trends

General trends indicate that the overall HDI value is increasing.[5] As countries become more developed and secure, they are better able to promote changes in the country that increase how well the needs of the people are met, specifically in indicator areas. As development occurs in these countries and economies grow, GDP increases as well as life expectancy as there is more access to social programs. As well, the quality of education tends to increase as rural population shrinks and people move to more urban centers in hopes of finding better jobs.[7] Overall, data shows that HDI has been increasing and will continue to increase with development.

To explore HDI trends worldwide, Canadian Geographic has an interesting interactive simulation here.

Interactive Graph

There is an interesting trend when investigating how the HDI of a country changes with its energy use. Since HDI goes up with rural electrification and increased access to social services (such as health care facilities), there tends to be a trend that shows HDI increases as energy use does as this energy is used to provide basic services to society. The graph below of primary energy use per capita and HDI values for 2012 for many countries worldwide. Mousing over specific spots on the graph give which country it is. The data for the graph below was obtained from the World Bank.[5][8]

Note that the HDI does tend to level off after a certain point, this means that more energy does not automatically translate into better lives. Although the opposite, not having access to energy certainly seems to cause problems for the people in a country. The units along the bottom of the graph are kilogram of oil equivalent, per person, in a year.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 UN Development Programme. (March 14, 2015). Human Development Index' [Online]. Available:
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Amanda Brinley. (March 14, 2015). The Human Development Index [Online]. Available:
  3. 3.0 3.1 Richard Wolfson. Energy, Environment, and Climate, 2nd Ed. New York, New York, USA. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.
  4. 4.0 4.1 UN Development Programme. (March 14, 2015). Table 1: Human Development Index and Components' [Online]. Available:
  5. UN Development Programme. [March 14, 2015]. Table 4: Gender Inequality Index [Online]. Available:
  6. The World Bank. (March 14, 2015).2014 - World Development Indicators [Online]. Available:
  7. World Bank. (August 19, 2015). Energy Use [Online]. Available:

Authors and Editors

Jordan Hanania, Ellen Lloyd, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jasdeep Toor, Jason Donev
Last updated: June 25, 2018
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