Success and Failure in Human Development, 1970-2007

85 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2013

See all articles by Gustav Ranis

Gustav Ranis

Yale University - Department of Economics (Deceased)

Frances Stewart

University of Oxford - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 7, 2010


The paper reviews experience in advancing Human Development since 1970 by investigating behaviour among countries that made the largest improvements in HD, and those that made the least improvement. The three developing countries with the fastest growth in the HDI over the period are selected from initial low-HDI, middle HDI- and high HDI country groupings, and their experience compared on a range of indicators.

Certain characteristics were common to all success cases: good or moderate educational enrollment ratios; good or moderate female/male enrollment ratios; and good or moderate Human Poverty Indices. The other three major inputs into success appear to be growth, social expenditure and income distribution, and the successful countries showed different combinations of performance on these. Weak performers all experienced poor or moderate economic growth. Two classes of weak performance were: low income countries with weak growth, poor distribution and high poverty; and transition countries where economic, institutional and demographic disruptions led to poor progress.

We also look beyond the HDI as an indicator of HD, explore such other features as political freedoms, security and environmental sustainability, and find little correlation between achievements on these indicators (both in levels and changes) with success and failure with respect to the HDI. Finally we provide short country vignettes of some of the success and failure cases, exploring some historical and institutional features associated with their performance.

Suggested Citation

Ranis, Gustav and Stewart, Frances, Success and Failure in Human Development, 1970-2007 (July 7, 2010). UNDP-HDRO Occasional Papers No. 2010/10, Available at SSRN:

Gustav Ranis (Contact Author)

Yale University - Department of Economics (Deceased)

United States

Frances Stewart

University of Oxford - Department of Economics ( email )

Manor Road Building
Oxford, OX1 3BJ, Oxfordshire OX13UQ
United Kingdom

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