Frequently Asked Questions - Origin and Purpose of the Human Development Report

The Human Development Reports have been commissioned and published by UNDP since 1990 as an intellectually independent, empirically grounded analysis of development issues, trends, progress and policies. The Report’s ultimate goal is to help advance human development. This means placing as much emphasis on health, education, and the expansion human freedoms and abilities as economic growth. As the first Human Development Report in 1990 asserted in its opening sentence, “The real wealth of a nation is its people.”
The Reports and related resources can be found at, including downloadable Reports or summaries in a dozen languages; eBooks; Human Development Research Papers; updated statistical indicators; data visualization tools; interactive maps; and data profiles of all UN member states.

The human development approach is anchored in a vision of development that was pioneered by Mahbub ul Haq, the lead author of the first Human Development Reports, and Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate economist who advised and assisted Haq in developing the report’s overall philosophical approach and its trademark Human Development Index. The 1990 Report said the goal of human development is “enlarging people’s choices,” including the ability to be healthy, to be educated, and to enjoy a decent standard of living. But the first Reports also stressed that human development and wellbeing go far beyond these dimensions to encompass a much broader range of capabilities, including political freedoms and human rights. Indeed, the “concept” of human development is much broader than the “measure” of human development (e.g., HDI). Its enthusiastic reception by governments, civil society, researchers and the media demonstrated the deep resonance of this innovative approach in the development community and beyond.

Since its inception in 1990, the Report has been intellectually and editorially independent, and often provocative, though always with firm grounding in empirical research. The Human Development Report is commissioned by UNDP but does not represent UN policy, or the official views of UNDP’s executive board or management. The Report depends on statistics from a wide array of UN and other multilateral agencies, but its analysis and conclusions are the responsibility of its authors alone. Its editorial autonomy is protected by a resolution of the General Assembly (A/RES/57/264), which recognizes the Human Development Report as “an independent intellectual exercise” and “an important tool for raising awareness about human development around the world."

With its wealth of empirical data and innovative approach to measuring development, the Human Development Reports have had a deep impact on development thinking around the world. The Reports have prompted and informed discussions and debates, and have pioneered ideas that have since become widely accepted. For example, the concept of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be traced in part back to the 1991 Report on financing development. The concept of human security, the theme of the 1994 Report, has also strongly influenced subsequent development debates. The 1999 Report highlighted the diverse impacts of globalization on human wellbeing including the often neglected subject of care and caring labour. The Human Development Reports have also long stressed the importance of sustainability. The 1994 Report emphasized the centrality of sustainable development to the human development approach of putting people first, not economic growth as an end in itself. The first Report, in 1990, warned presciently about ozone damage and urban pollution and other environmental hazards. The 2007/8 Report addressed the consequences of climate change for the world’s poor. The 2011 Report, building on that legacy, identified policies that can advance sustainability and equality simultaneously, locally as well as globally. The 2013 Report carries on that tradition, examining the human development impact to date and projected long-term human development implications of "the Rise of the South."

More than 40 editorially autonomous Human Development Reports with a regional focus have been produced in the past two decades with support from UNDP’s regional bureaus. With often provocative analyses and policy advocacy, these Reports have examined such critical issues as civil liberties and the empowerment of women in the Arab states, corruption in the Asia-Pacific region, treatment of the Roma and other minorities in Central Europe, and social inequalities in Latin America. These regional Reports reflect the global report’s traditions of intellectual autonomy and a human development perspective, putting people first. In addition, local editorial teams with UNDP support have produced many national Reports - more than 650 in 140 countries to date. These reports bring a human development perspective to national policy concerns through locally managed consultations and research. National Reports often focus on issues of gender, ethnicity, or rural/urban divides to help identify inequality, measure progress, and identify early warning signs of potential conflict. Because these reports are grounded in national needs and perspectives, many have had significant influence on national polices, including strategies for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and other human development priorities. For more information on national and regional Human Development Reports, see

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite measure of human development. It measures average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life (health), access to knowledge (education) and a decent standard of living (income). Data availability determines HDI country coverage. To enable comparisons among countries, the HDI calculated with the most recent available internationally comparable data from leading international data agencies and other credible data sources, rather than from national sources directly.

The Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) adjusts the Human Development Index (HDI) for inequality in distribution of each dimension across the population. The IHDI accounts for inequalities in HDI dimensions by “discounting” each dimension’s average value according to its level of inequality. The IHDI equals the HDI when there is no inequality across people but is less than the HDI as inequality rises. In this sense, the IHDI is the actual level of human development (accounting for this inequality), while the HDI can be viewed as an index of “potential” human development (or the maximum level of HDI) that could be achieved if there was no inequality. The “loss” in potential human development due to inequality is given by the difference between the HDI and the IHDI and can be expressed as a percentage.

The Gender Inequality Index (GII) reflects women’s disadvantage in three dimensions— reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market—for as many countries as data of reasonable quality allow. The index shows the loss in human development due to inequality between female and male achievements in these dimensions. It ranges from 0, which indicates that women and men fare equally, to 1, which indicates that women fare as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) identifies multiple deprivations at the individual level in health, education and standard of living. It uses micro data from household surveys, and—unlike the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index—all the indicators needed to construct the measure must come from the same survey. Each person in a given household is classified as poor or not poor depending on the number of deprivations his or her household experiences. These data are then aggregated into the national measure of poverty.

The Human Development Report presents two types of statistical information: statistics in its indices and associated Statistical Tables, which provide a global assessment of country achievements in different areas of human development, and statistical evidence in the thematic analysis in the Report itself, which may be based on international, national or sub-national data. The online Human Development Report database contains a full-time series data set for all indicators included in the printed edition of the Report.

The Human Development Report Office is primarily a user, not a producer, of statistics. To allow comparisons across countries and over time in the Report, it relies on international data agencies with the mandate, resources and expertise to collect and compile data on specific indicators. For more information see the contact information of major data agencies. Sources for all data used in the indicator tables are given in short citations at the end of each table. When an agency provides data it has collected from another source, both sources are credited in the table notes. When an agency has drawn from other data contributors, only the ultimate source is provided. The Report provides the original data components used by the Human Development Report Office to ensure that its calculations can be easily replicated.

The statistical evidence used in the thematic analysis in the Report is often drawn from the Statistical Tables. But other sources include commissioned papers, government documents, national human development reports, reports of non-governmental organizations, journal articles and other scholarly publications. Official statistics usually receive priority. But because of the cutting-edge nature of the issues discussed, relevant official statistics may not exist, so that nonofficial sources of information must be used. Nevertheless, the Human Development Report Office is committed to relying on data compiled through scholarly and scientific research and to ensuring impartiality in the sources of information and in its use in the analysis. Where information from sources other than the Report’s indicator tables is used in boxes or tables in the text, the source is shown and the full citation is given in the bibliography. In each chapter, endnotes specify the sources of statistical information not drawn from the indicator tables.

The 2013 Report divides countries into four groups according to country HDI rankings: Very High, High, Medium and Low Human Development. The groups each represent one quartile of the annual HDI grouping, which in 2013 comprises 187 countries and territories. Developing countries are further classified by the Report into Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa, following UNDP Regional Bureau classifications. (Due to its size and diversity, the Asia-Pacific region is subdivided for the Report’s statistical purposes into two: South Asia, and East Asia & the Pacific.)

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of quantifiable, time-bound goals adapted from the Millennium Declaration, which was endorsed in March 2002 by the UN member states. The Human Development Report incorporates some indicators used in Millennium Development Goals in its annual Statistical Tables, but does not report on the achievement of the MDGs as such.
The United Nations Statistics Division’s Millennium Indicators Database ( is the chief UN source of data on the MDGs, providing updated statistics for the Secretary-General’s yearly report on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, as well as for other annual reports, including the Human Development Reports and the World Bank’s World Development Indicators reports. The UN Statistics Division, the World Bank and other data providers - such as the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the World Health Organization (WHO) - enable the Report to include the most recent available MDGs figures. MDGs data can be found in:
1) MDG Monitor: Tracking the Millennium Development Goals
2) Global and national efforts
3) UNSD Millennium Indicators Database