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Human Development Index


UNDP Human Development Report Office

Stated Purpose: 

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of human development. It measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.

Area of Governance: 
Civil Society
Public Administration
Funding Source: 


Current usage: 

A composite indicator used for the Human Development Report, widely quoted in international media

Type of data used: 

The sources for the data used in the HDI are often specialized agencies of the United Nations system, such as WHO, UNESCO, ILO, UNICEF, in addition to partnering with many national and international statistical agencies.


Country Coverage: 187 countries and territories.
Year Coverage: The first report was released in 1990. The 2011 version of the report contains data from 1980 and onwards.

Contact details: 

Human Development Report Office
304 E. 45th Street, 12th Floor, New York 10017
Tel: +1 (212) 906-3661 Fax: +1 (212) 906-3677


Calculating the HDI involves several steps:
First, minimum and maximum values (goalposts) are set in order to transform the indicators into indices between 0 and 1. The maximums are the highest observed values in the time series  (1980–2011). The minimum values can be appropriately conceived of as subsistence values. The minimum values are set at 20 years for life expectancy, at 0 years for both education variables and at $100 for per capita gross national income (GNI). The low value for income can be justified by the considerable amount of unmeasured subsistence and non-market production in economies close to the minimum, not captured in the official data. 

Next, the subindices are calculated. This is done by taking the actual value in a given country and subtracts it with the minimum value ( actual value – minimum value),  and subtract the maximum value with the minimum value (maximum value - minimum value), and finally these two values are divided ( actual value – minimum value/ maximum value - minimum value = Dimension index )   
To exemplify; the life expectancy at birth component of the HDI is calculated using a minimum value of 20 years and maximum value of 83.4 years (Japan). This is the observed maximum value of the indicators from the countries in the time series, 1980–2010. Thus, the longevity component for a country where life expectancy birth is 55 years would be 0.552.
Finally, the subindices are aggregated to produce the HDI. The HDI is the geometric mean of the three dimension indices: ( I Life 1/3 I Education 1/3 I Income 1/3).

For full description of the methodology see the HDR 2011 Technical Note

The diagram here summarizes how the HDI is constructed (Technical note 1 HDR 2011)


Format of results: 

The index runs from 0 to 1 with 1 being the maximum. A higher score is desirable.

Valid Use: 

Serve as a frame of reference for both social and economic development and facilitates instructive comparisons of the experiences within and between different countries.  


The three dimensions: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living are given equal weights in the HDI, as they are assumed to be equally important and desirable in their own rights for building human capabilities.

Example results: 

Human Development Index: Trends 1980 - 2011 (Nicaragua)