The concept of development: Africa’s human development

The concept of human development centres around the notion that human welfare depends on various

dimensions, many of which are not well captured by conventional measures of economic income (see Griffin and Knight, 1990; UNDP, 1990). Particular attention has been given to using measures of health

and education as welfare indicators in addition to GDP per capita. Education, good health and longevity

are intrinsically valuable outputs. In conventional measures of economic output, health and education’s

contribution is measured essentially by the costs of producing the outcomes, ie expenditures on schools

and medical facilities. Such a procedure identifies inputs rather than outputs. The valuation of both

health and education is difficult as both are goods with attributes different from most types of goods

produced in an economy. Whilst high incomes may be conducive to health, health cannot be directly

purchased like material goods and services. Health and education are often subsidised by the state and

in some countries education is compulsory for certain minimum length of times. Many, if not most,

health and education services are produced by the public sector. Governments play a direct part in

providing services very directly linked to human welfare.

In this paper, health outcomes are measured mainly through mortality statistics. Of these, life

expectancy at birth is perhaps the most comprehensive, depending as it does on the current agespecific

mortality rates for all age groups. Educational indicators are either stock or flow measures.

Stock measures of educational indicators include the literacy of the population, the average number of

years of education of the population and the extent of educational attainment by level. These measures

are appropriate for assessing the accumulated achievement of a country or for estimating the contribution

of education to economic performance. Flow measures are school enrolment ratios and measure

investment in the future capacities of the population.1

The UNDP has developed a composite indicator, the human development index (HDI),

which gives equal weight to three indicators: real GDP per capita (measured at purchasing power

parity in constant prices); life expectancy at birth; and educational attainment, measured by adult

literacy (two-thirds weight) and combined primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment ratios (onethird

weight) (see UNDP, 1997, p122 for details). The index is valuable in extending the economic

concept of welfare, but for many purposes it is more useful to focus on the individual components

of the index than the index itself. Africa has performed very differently in each of the three

dimensions of the welfare and the dimensions are not independent.

The most recent UNDP Human Development Report shows that Africa has the lowest level

of human development of any region but its income per capita is higher than that of South Asia.2

In what follows, we often compare Africa with South Asia. This comparison provides a useful

benchmark, since South Asia is the region most similar to Africa in terms of income and overall

development. For example, it is instructive to consider why Africa has a lower HDI than South

Asia despite having higher income. The proximate cause is the relatively low life expectancy at

birth of Africans.

Human Capital and Economic Development

Simon Appleton and Francis Teal


The African Development Bank is the premier financial development institution of Africa, dedicated to combating poverty and improving the lives of people of the continent and engaged in the task of mobilizing resources towards the economic and social progress of its Regional Member Countries.The Bank’s s mission is to promote economic and social development through loans, equity investments, and technical assistance. The ADB is a multilateral development bank whose shareholders include 53 Af...

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