Studying development is about measuring how developed one country is compared to other countries, or to the same country in the past. Development measures how economically, socially, culturally or technologically advanced a country is. The two most important ways of measuring development are economic development and human development.


  • Economic development is a measure of a country’s wealth and how it is generated (for example agriculture is considered less economically advanced then banking).
  • Human development measures the access the population has to wealth, jobs, education, nutrition, health, leisure and safety – as well as political and cultural freedom. Material elements, such as wealth and nutrition, are described as the standard of living. Health and leisure are often referred to as quality of life.

GDP per capita, 2020

Economic Growth

Let’s first examine economic growth. A country’s economic growth is usually indicated by an increase in that country’s gross domestic product, or GDP. Generally speaking, gross domestic product is an economic model that reflects the value of a country’s output. In other words, a country’s GDP is the total monetary value of the goods and services produced by that country over a specific period of time.

To assess the economic development of a country, geographers use economic indicators including:

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the total value of goods and services produced by a country in a year.
  • Gross National Product (GNP) measures the total economic output of a country, including earnings from foreign investments.
  • GNP per capita is a country’s GNP divided by its population. (Per capita means per person.).
  • Unemployment is the number of people who cannot find work.
  • Economic structure shows the division of a country’s economy between primary, secondary and tertiary


Economic Development

Now let’s take a look at economic development. A country’s economic development is usually indicated by an increase in citizens’ quality of life. ‘Quality of life’ is often measured using the Human Development Index, which is an economic model that considers intrinsic personal factors not considered in economic growth, such as literacy rates, life expectancy and poverty rates.

While economic growth often leads to economic development, it’s important to note that a country’s GDP doesn’t include intrinsic development factors, such as leisure time, environmental quality or freedom from oppression. Using the Human Development Index, factors like literacy rates and life expectancy generally imply a higher per capita income and therefore indicate economic development.

Human development indicators include:

  • Life expectancy – the average age to which a person lives, eg this is 79 in the UK and 48 in Kenya.
  • Infant mortality rate – counts the number of babies, per 1000 live births, who die under the age of one. This is 5 in the UK and 61 in Kenya.
  • Access to basic services – the availability of services necessary for a healthy life, such as clean water and sanitation.
  • Access to healthcare – takes into account statistics such as how many doctors there are for every patient.
  • Access to education – measures how many people attend primary school, secondary school and higher education.
  • Literacy rate – is the percentage of adults who can read and write. This is 99 per cent in the UK, 85 per cent in Kenya and 60 per cent in India.
  • Access to technology – includes statistics such as the percentage of people with access to phones, mobile phones, television and the internet.
  • Male/female equality – compares statistics such as the literacy rates and employment between the sexes.
  • Government spending priorities – compares health and education expenditure with military expenditure and paying off debts.

Cairo - an example of a LEDC    New York - an example of a MEDC


1. What does HDI stand for?

2. Name the three composite indicators that are included in HDI.

3. On what scale is HDI measured?

4. Which is the highest and lowest value?

5. Give examples of values and what those represent.






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