Tuesday, 18 March 2014

World inequalities in the Human Development Index (1980-2012) - Time Distance View

This blog, by Pavle Sicherl, is about a Gaptimer measure, which helps perceive inequalities using time distance methodology, and presents the Gaptimer Report No. 1. This post is a part of the Wikiprogress series on Inequalities.

Inequalities in the world, between and within countries, are - together with the environment - the critical issues for the 21st century. Official data from the 2013 UNDP Report for 187 countries are here analysed and presented by the novel generic time distance methodology. The main proposition is that people compare over many dimensions and over time. The time distance perspective can thus contribute a useful piece of the mosaic in building up an internationally supported methodology to measure and assess the overall “position” and “progress” among and within countries. It offers a new view of data that is exceptionally easy to understand and communicate, and it allows for developing and exploring new hypotheses and perspectives. The analysis deals mostly with the first part of the statement of Aristotle, “Let us first understand the facts, and then we may seek the cause”.

Much effort has been invested in building statistical databases at a national and international levels, and in the notionally related field of Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Measurement is costly and it is important to exploit existing data efficiently for building knowledge and for policy debate.

Describing and perceiving inequalities in terms of percentages and ranks is not enough. Development processes take place in time and to get additional insights from existing data we complement the static measures of inequality by measuring the gap in time when two compared countries achieved the same level of the indicator (i.e., the HDI level of 0.55 was attained in China in 1996 and in India in 2011, showing S-time-distance lag of 15 years behind Sweden). For life expectancy the static difference for China against Sweden was less than 10 percent (which may appear to be small) while the time distance was around 50 years (which gives a very different perception of the magnitude of the gap, the life expectancy in China in 2012 was attained in Sweden in 1964).

Gaptimer measure gives the perception of larger inequality in HDI than percentages

The time distance methodology applied to Human Development Index opens new dynamic vistas of inequalities in the world. Empirically, when comparing across indicators and across time, static and time distance measures can give different perceptions of the order of magnitude of inequality within and between countries, so both dimensions matter. Gaptimer Report No. 1 ‘World Inequalities in Human Development Index (1980-2012)’ presents a new way of understanding and discussing development and world inequalities in a new dynamic framework.

In the study, Chapter 2 presents the time distance methodology on the example of inequalities in life expectancy. Chapters 3 and 4 analyse trends in HDI and its components over the three decades (1980-2012) for four human development groups. The time matrix table-graph below is an innovative way of added presentation of time series data over many units and over time (descriptors are units and levels of the indicator and the values in the field of the table are times when such levels were attained). Further details can be attained in the presentation on www.gaptimer.eu/summary by groups

S-time-matrix: The world view over 4 HD groups and 4 indices (trends 1980-2012)
SOURCE: Own calculations based on data from Human Development Report 2013.

Chapter 5 presents S-time-distance estimates for HDI inequalities within the four groups for 187 countries. Further details on time matrices for HDI, S-time-step as a measure of dynamics, and time distance inequalities within HD groups can be obtained in the presentation www.gaptimer.eu/time matrices by countries. For interested users the time matrices for countries can be obtained in the Excel format at www.gaptimer.eu/esm1.zip. Telling new stories in Chapters 6, 7, and 8 includes inequalities within EU27, BRICS countries, and Gulf Coordination Council countries, respectively.


Gaptimer approach is a new way of seeing the past reality revealing new stories and options how to treat and interpret inter-temporal distances and dynamic changes in composite indicators.

S-time-distance gives a rough perception of the magnitude of world inequality expressed as gap in time that can be rather different from the respective percentage measure.   The time distance between the HD groups (or countries) measured in years (or even decades) are relevant statistical descriptive measures of the situation easily understandable by everyone, balancing the static view. It indicates both the challenge of the starting point in the post-2015 agenda and the urgency to tackle inequalities between and within countries.

Potential users of this methodology and results are very many at various levels: international and national organisations, NGOs, experts, businesses, managers, educators, students, interest groups, media, and the general public. It can be used for other types of units like gender, regions, poverty groups, or inequality adjusted HDI, if data would be available.

Pavle Sicherl is Founder of Sicenter (Socio-economic Indicators Center) and professor of economics at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

See Also:
Time Distance Progress Chart of MDG implementation
Gaptimer Progress Chart of MDG implementation 2013

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