Social Indicators Research

, Volume 84, Issue 2, pp 179–188

Keeping things simple: why the Human Development Index should not diverge from its equal weights assumption

Original Paper
  • 258 Downloads

Abstract

Using a range of statistical criteria rooted in Information Theory we show that there is little justification for relaxing the equal weights assumption underlying the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI) even if the true HDI diverges significantly from this assumption. Put differently, the additional model complexity that unequal weights add to the HDI more than counteracts the improvement in goodness-of-fit. This suggests that, in some cases, there may be limited validity in increasing the complexity of a range of other composite sustainability indices.

Keywords

Complexity Composite indices Human Development Index Information Theory Sustainable development Well-being 

References

  1. Akaike, H. (1974). A new look at the statistical model identification. IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control, 19, pp. 716–723.Google Scholar
  2. Atkinson, G. (1995). Measuring Sustainable Economic Welfare: A Critique of the UK ISEW. Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment Working Paper, Norwich and London.Google Scholar
  3. Booysen, F. (2002). An overview and evaluation of composite indices of development. Social Indicators Research, 59, pp. 115–151.Google Scholar
  4. Bossel, H. (1999). Indicators for sustainable development: Theory, method, applications. Manitoba: International Institute for Sustainable Development.Google Scholar
  5. Bozdogan, H. (1990). On the information-based measure of covariance complexity and its application to the evaluation of multivariate linear models. Communications in Statistics, Theory and Methods, 19, pp. 221–278.Google Scholar
  6. Chowdhury, S. and Squire, L. (2006). Setting weights for aggregate indices: an application to the Commitment to Development Index and Human Development Index. Journal of Development Studies, 42, 761–771.Google Scholar
  7. Cobb, C. Halstead, T., & Rowe, J. (1995). The genuine progress indicator: Summary of data and methodology. San Francisco: Redefining Progress.Google Scholar
  8. Daly, H., & Cobb, J. (1989). For the common good. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  9. Hardi, P., & Zdan, T. (1997). Assessing sustainable development: Principles in practice. Winnipeg: International Institute for Sustainable Development.Google Scholar
  10. Healy, T., & Côté, S. (2001). The well-being of nations: The role of human and social capital. Paris: Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.Google Scholar
  11. Lawn, P. (2006). An assessment of alternative measures of sustainable economic welfare. In P. Lawn (Ed.), Sustainable development indicators in ecological economics, (pp. 139–165). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  12. Lawn, P., & Sanders, R. (1999). Has Australia surpassed its optimal macroeconomic scale: finding out with the aid of “benefit” and “cost” accounts and a sustainable net benefit index. Ecological Economics, 28, 213–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Morse, S. (2003). For better or for worse, till the human development index do us part? Ecological Economics, 45, 281–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Murray, C. J. L. (1991). Development Data Constraints and the Human Development Index, Discussion Paper, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva.Google Scholar
  15. Myung, I. J. (2000). The importance of complexity in model selection. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 44, 190–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Nardo, M. Saisana, M. Saltelli, A., & Tarantola, S. (2005a). Tools for composite indicator building. Ispra: Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, European Commission Directorate-General Research Centre.Google Scholar
  17. Nardo, M. Saisana, M. Saltelli, A., Tarantola, S., Hoffman, A., & Giovannini E. (2005b) Handbook on constructing composite indicators: Methodology and user guide. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.Google Scholar
  18. Neumayer, E. (1999). The ISEW––not an index of sustainable economic welfare. Social Indicators Research, 48, 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pannell, D. J., & Glenn, N. A. (2000). A framework for the economic evaluation and selection of sustainability indicators in agriculture. Ecological Economics, 33, 135–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Press, W. H. Teukolsky, S. A. Vetterling, W. T., & Flannery, B. P. (2002). Numerical recipes in C++. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Rissanen, J. (1987). Stochastic complexity and the MDL principle. Econometric Reviews, 8, 85–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sagar, A. D., & Najam, A. (1998). The human development index: a critical review. Ecological Economics, 25, 249–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sagar, A. D., & Najam, A. (1999). Shaping human development: which way next? Third World Quarterly, 20, 743–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schwarz, G. (1978). Investigating the dimension of a model. The Annals of Statistics, 6, 461–464.Google Scholar
  25. Segnestam, L. (2002). Indicators of Environment and Sustainable Development: Theories and Practical Experience. Paper No. 89, Environmental Economic Series, World Bank, Washington DC.Google Scholar
  26. Sneddon, C. S. (2000). ‘Sustainability’ in ecological economics, ecology and livelihoods: a review. Progress in Human Geography, 24, 521–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Srinivasan, T. N. (1994). Human development: a new paradigm or reinvention of the wheel? AEA Papers and Proceedings 84, pp. 238–43.Google Scholar
  28. Stapleton, L. M., Laybourn-Parry, J., Poulton, P. R., Tye, A. M., West, H. M., Young, S. D., & Crout, N. M. J. (2006). Parsimonious modelling of nutrient fluxes for a terrestrial ecosystem on Svalbard. Biogeochemistry, 80, 57–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Stevens, C. (2005). Measuring sustainable development. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.Google Scholar
  30. United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. (1992). Agenda 21. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.Google Scholar
  31. United Nations Development Programme. (1990). Human development report. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Rural Economy, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural DevelopmentNewcastle UniversityNewcastle-upon-TyneUK

Personalised recommendations