The creators of the Human Development Index (HDI) recognise that there can be significant disparities between the well being of a country’s male and female populations, and recognise this by disaggregating the data by sex. The problem remains, however, that an overall rise in HDI may obscure very different experiences on the ground.
In Algeria, for example, the HDI for males increased between 2018 and 2019 (blue column in Figure 2, below). However, for Algeria’s female population, the HDI decreased (red column). Despite this difference, the overall HDI for Algeria increased by 0.0017 (yellow column). On the surface, then, it looks like things got better for Algerians between 2018 and 2019, but for women they got worse.
The green column, below, shows the change in Algeria’s Gender Development Index (GDI) between 2018 and 2019. The UNDP (2020) defines the GDI as the ratio of female to male HDI values. Since Algeria’s female HDI decreased and its male HDI increased, the GDI also decreased between 2018 and 2019. In other words, an increase in overall HDI can still mean a decrease in GDI.
There are also cases where the HDI of a country’s male population decreases, while the HDI of its female population increases (see, for example, Zimbabwe, shown below).
There are even cases where both the female and male HDIs for a country decrease between years, while its overall HDI increases (see, for example, Cameroon, below).
Indicator data disaggregated by sex is not always available for every country, and crude estimates are made by the UNDP for such cases. The average of such disaggregated estimates do not always match the overall values used by the UNDP when calculating overall HDIs.
In the case of Cameroon, the Expected Years of Schooling for females (in 2018) is given as 11.9 years, and for males as 13.6 years. The average of these is 12.7 years. However, in calculating the overall HDI for Cameroon, the UNDP uses 12.1 years.
Although the HDI is already an improvement on more economic measures of development, such as GDP, taking a country’s overall HDI as the sole measure of its population’s development overlooks the disparities that exist between female and male populations, particularly in terms of life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling, and GNI per capita.
In part two of this series of HDI blogs (coming soon!), we will be looking more closely at the discrepancies that exist between female, male, and overall indicators for African countries, and how they impact GDI.
The data shown in this post can be accessed here.
This is the second in a series of articles about the Human Development Index, produced around the launch of the 2022 report on 8 September. You can read part one here, and part three will be published next week.