World Inequalities in Human Development Index (1980-2012)

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Gaptimer Report No. 1 ‘World Inequalities in Human Development Index’ presents a new way of understanding and discussing development and world inequalities in a new dynamic framework. Time distance methodology can be very helpful both in the preparation of the post-2015 agenda as well as in the continuous monitoring of implementation of selected indicators later, both on the aggregate and national levels. The first step in building any strategy is the assessment of the starting position. This report analyses it for the domain of the Human Development Index (HDI), it is applicable to indicators in other domains, including MDGs.

This manuscript can expand knowledge in two ways. Firstly, it offers an innovative approach for looking at disparities over many units and over time. The new time distance measure, expressed in time units, is easy to understand by everybody and offers a novel way to compare situations in economics, politics, business and statistics. The time distance concept can influence the perception and decisions of people when they are assessing their relative position in their surroundings, in the society and across countries over time.

‘As Sicherl (1973, 1993) proposes … observed time distance is a dynamic measure of temporal disparity between the two series intuitively clear, readily measurable, and in transparent units. It is suggested that one should complement conventional measures with horizontal measures.’ (Granger and Jeon, 1997)
C.W.J. Granger and Y. Jeon, University of California at San Diego


Empirical Results

Secondly, the empirical results for the HDI over the three decades (1980-2012) provide new insights for the post-2015 agenda. S-time-distance measure (calculations based on official UNDP data) estimates HDI inequalities for each of 187 countries within their peer group. Telling new stories includes inequalities within EU27, BRICS countries, and Gulf Coordination Council countries.

Describing and perceiving inequalities in terms of percentages and ranks is not enough. Development processes take place in time and to get additional insights from existing data we complement the static measures of inequality by measuring the gap in time when two compared countries achieved the same level of the indicator (i.e., the HDI level of 0.55 was attained in China in 1996 and in India in 2011, showing S-time-distance lag of 15 years behind Sweden). For life expectancy the static difference for China against Sweden was less than 10 percent (which may appear to be small) while the time distance was around 50 years (which gives a very different perception of the magnitude of the gap, the life expectancy in China in 2012 was attained in Sweden in 1964).


Trends in World Inequalities in HDI and Health, Education, and Income Components

Chapters 3 and 4 analyse trends in HDI and its components over the three decades (1980-2012) for four human development groups. The time matrix table-graph below is an innovative way of added presentation of time series data over many units and over time (descriptors are units and levels of the indicator and the values in the field of the table are times when such levels were attained). Further details can be attained in the presentation on by groups.


An Overview over 187 Countries within the Four Human Development Groups

Chapter 5 presents S-time-distance estimates for HDI inequalities within the four groups for 187 countries. Further details on time matrices for HDI, S-time-step as a measure of dynamics, and time distance inequalities within HD groups can be obtained in the presentation matrices by countries.

HDI China S distance.JPG

For interested users the time matrices for countries can be obtained in the Excel format at Telling new stories in Chapters 6, 7, and 8 includes inequalities within EU27, BRICS countries, and Gulf Coordination Council countries, respectively.



Gaptimer approach is a new way of seeing the past reality revealing new stories and options how to treat and interpret inter-temporal distances and dynamic changes in composite indicators.

S-time-distance gives a rough perception of the magnitude of world inequality expressed as gap in time that can be rather different from the respective percentage measure. The time distance between the HD groups (or countries) measured in years (or even decades) are relevant statistical descriptive measures of the situation easily understandable by everyone, balancing the static view.

Potential users of this methodology and results are very many at various levels: international and national organisations, NGOs, experts, businesses, managers, educators, students, interest groups, media, and the general public. It can be used for other types of units like gender, regions, poverty groups, or inequality adjusted HDI, if data would be available.

These additional insights provide a transparent matter-of-fact message to politicians and the international community about the degree of urgency to tackle wide inequalities between and within countries in formulating and deciding on the post-2015 agenda.

See also

ProgBlog: World inequalities in the Human Development Index (1980-2012) – Time Distance View
European Union at a Glance
Gaptimer Progress Chart of MDG implementation
Time Distance Progress Chart of MDG implementation

External links World Inequalities in Human Development Index (1980-2012)