Japan is the second-best place in the world in terms of human development, with Hong Kong in first place and Iceland in third, according to a new index called the Human Life Indicator that is supposed to be simpler and more accurate than the U.N. Human Development Index.

The Human Life Indicator, or HLI, was published in a study in November by the Population and Development Review and co-authored by Simone Ghislandi of Bocconi University in Milan and his colleagues Warren Sanderson and Sergei Scherbov.

The HLI takes into account inequality-adjusted life expectancy at birth, while the Human Development Index, introduced by the United Nations in 1990, measures life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling, and economic conditions.

The authors argue that an economy with many disadvantaged people dying young and many rich people dying old is considered worse off than an economy with most of the population living about the same age.

“Rich but unequal” economies rank lower in the new index compared with the U.N. version: The United States, ranked 10th by the Human Development Index, drops all the way to 32nd in the HLI, while Germany goes from fourth down to 25th.

“More equal” economies, on the other hand, rise in rank, with Japan moving up to second place from 17th. Spain goes from 27th to fifth and Italy from 26th to sixth.

“The point of our index is that money matters only to the extent that it increases life length,” Ghislandi, a professor of social and political sciences at Bocconi University, told The Japan Times in an email.

“Norway, for example, is very rich (first in the UN HDI ranking) but Japanese live longer than Norwegians. This is why Japanese is second in our ranking and Norway is not in the top five.

“In our index, a country is not more developed just because it is richer. It is more developed only if it manages to increase the quality and hence the quantity of life of its citizens,” Ghislandi said.

Though the HLI and HDI correlate heavily, the new index takes into account “progress toward reducing inequality” in human development, and it produced significantly difference results, the study says.

Ghislandi explained that countries should be careful not to “confuse the means with the ends.”

In other words, economic growth should not be confused with improvements to living conditions. Since the HLI focuses on people’s lifespan rather than their GDP, and since that data already exist in most countries, it can be used to compare not only how a economy is doing now, but how it was doing 50 years ago as well.

“In the lives of people, human development takes many different forms: better capacity to choose, better available options, better well-being, to mention just a few (important) ones,” Ghislandi said.

“At (the) country level, human development can be related with economic growth, but it is not uniquely defined by it: Economic growth matters only to the extent that society can benefit from it in terms of improved living conditions,” he said.

Human Life Indicator

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Japan
  3. Iceland
  4. Singapore
  5. Spain
  6. Italy
  7. Switzerland
  8. Sweden
  9. Norway
  10. Australia

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