Measures of Human Development: Key Concepts and Properties

OPHI Working Papers

The measurement of human development is a rich field which has seen a veritable explosion of new and innovative international indices. With the advent of the Sustainable Development Goals’ and their emphasis on interlinkages across deprived conditions, and with the promise of a ‘data revolution’ it seems that the proliferation of new indices that track multiple inter-related phenomena will continue. This paper sets out two basic set of criteria that, we believe, would be very helpful for structuring new policy metrics, and would provide human development experts, statisticians, and others with tremendously useful concepts to bear in mind when assessing and using different societal indices. The first criteria, ably articulated in Foster Seth Lokshin and Sajaia recently, is to clarify whether a human development indicator measures well-being, inequality, or poverty. These features of any population are distinct and each are of singular importance, but it is also useful not to confuse them. The second criterion is to ensure that the structure of the index is clearly explained. In particular, we discuss the importance of clarifying four methodological features: whether an index can be broken down by indicator; whether it can be disaggregated by population subgroup; whether it reflects the joint or overlapping conditions of a person, or evaluates dimensions one by one, and what kinds of weights or values are used to construct the composite index. While these criteria may seem, on the face of it, rather dry, a clear answer to each is essential (and also rather powerful) to understanding the policy relevance of each index. 

Citation: Alkire, S. (2016). 'Measures of human development: Key concepts and properties', OPHI Working Paper 107, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford.

human development, poverty, inequality, measurement, social progress

Sabina Alkire
Series Name
OPHI Working Papers
Publication date
JEL Codes
D63, I32, O15
Publication Number
WP 107