Norway, Australia and the Netherlands lead this year’s newly released Human Development Index rankings, the annual United Nations measure of progress in human well being, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Burundi are at the bottom.
The new index, issued Wednesday by the U.N. Development Programme, combines measures of life expectancy, literacy, school enrollment and gross domestic product per capita. This year a record 187 countries and territories were measured, up from 169 last year.
Norway retained its top position from last year ahead of Australia and then the Netherlands, while the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Sweden comprise the remainder of the top 10 in that order.
But when the index is adjusted for economic inequality, the standings of some countries fall significantly. The United States falls from four to 23, the Republic of Korea from 15 to 32, and Israel from 17 to 25.
In the case of the United States and Israel, their positions are affected by income inequality, although health care is also an influencing factor for the United States, while education gaps between generations are the main reason for Korea’s ranking change.
In contrast, other countries’ standings improve after the index has been adjusted for inequality. Sweden jumps from 10 to five, Denmark from 16 to 12, and Slovenia rises from 21 to 14.
“The inequality-adjusted Human Development Index helps us assess better the levels of development for all segments of society, rather than for just the mythical ‘average’ person,” said Milorad Kovacevic, chief statistician for the Human Development Report that accompanies the index.
“We consider health and education distribution to be just as important in this equation as income, and the data show great inequities in many countries.”
The report, Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All, notes income distribution has worsened in most of the world and reveals Latin America has the largest income inequality, although it is more equitable than sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia in life expectancy and schooling.
The report also shows that countries at the bottom of the list still suffer from inadequate incomes, limited schooling opportunities and low expectancy rates due to preventable diseases such as malaria and AIDS.
The report stresses that a lot of the problems encountered by countries with low rankings are worsened by armed conflicts and its devastating consequences. In the Congo, the country with the lowest ranking, more than three million people died from warfare and conflict related illnesses.
Seven countries, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Marshall Islands, Monaco, Nauru, San Marino, Somalia and Tuvalu, were not included this year because of a lack of data.