Quality of Life, by Race and Gender: the Human Development Index

How do you measure the quality of life in broad terms for nations, or large groups within nations?

Most quantitative measures of quality of life are based on standard of living statistics, which in turn are based mostly on income or other purely economic factors.

A group called the Human Development Project (the Project) finds fault with that approach, saying that other measures are needed to truly understand how well people are living:

The indicators most frequently deployed in evaluating public welfare-GDP, the Dow Jones and NASDAQ, consumer spending and the like-only address one aspect of the American experience.

The human development model emphasizes the broader, everyday experience of ordinary people, including the economic, social, legal, psychological, cultural, environmental processes that shape the range of options available to us.

This approach has gained support around the world as a valuable tool in analyzing the well-being of large population groups.

The Project has developed a rating system called the Human Development Index which measures achievement in three basic categories:
• long and healthy life (as indicated by life expectancy at birth)
• access to knowledge (indicated by al degree attainment and school enrollment)
• decent standard of living (indicated by median earnings)

By applying these measures, the Project has developed the following Human Development Index scores for the United States, by race and gender:

American Human Development Index (HD) Rankings by Race and Gender, 2005
* Enrollment can exceed 100% if persons 25 years old or more are enrolled in school.
Source: The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009

Of note:

• Black Males have the lowest Index score, even though they have higher median (average) earnings than several other groups. The reason: Black Males have a much lower life expectancy. The gap between the expected lifespan of Black Males and some of the other groups is enormous.

• Given that Black Females have higher rates of educational achievement, it is somehwat surprising that they earn so much less than Black Males.

• Black Females earn 89% of what White Females earn, and 80% of what Asian Females earn. But Black Males earn just 70% of what White Males or Asian Males earn.

• The Median Earnings for Black Males may be “inflated” due to Black Males’ low life expectancy, I think. Here’s why. A major factor in the low life expectancy for Black Males is the high homicicde rate amoung black male youth. I suspect that the youth involved in this behavior are from lower income groups than the rest of black male youth. Were these troubled young males to live longer, their incomes when reaching adulthood would be lower, because persons from low-income households tend to earn less than those from high-income households. (In other words: the average amount of Black Male earnings might be lower, if not for the fact that low-income black males are killng each other off.)

All of this is from the book The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009. This is a great read, and I recommend it highly to anyone who wants information about – and suggestions for improving – the quality of life in our country.

And yes: there is a website with more information on the book and Human Development Project; go here.

See also: The Measure of America: Economic Factoids.

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