29 March 2014

Human Development and Economic Growth

Human Development and Economic Growth
Gustav Ranis
Yale University∗
Recent literature has contrasted Human Development, described as the ultimate
goal of the development process, with economic growth, described as an imperfect proxy
for more general welfare, or as a means toward enhanced human development. This
debate has broadened the definitions and goals of development but still needs to define
the important interrelations between human development (HD) and economic growth
(EG). To the extent that greater freedom and capabilities improve economic
performance, human development will have an important effect on growth. Similarly, to
the extent that increased incomes will increase the range of choices and capabilities
enjoyed by households and governments, economic growth will enhance human
development. This paper analyzes these relationships and the two-way linkages
involved. It will first review some of the theoretical debates on EG/HD linkages, then
review the conclusions suggested by empirical analysis. Finally it will examine the
policy implications of these linkages. Section II discusses the case for HD and what
produces HD. Section III discusses similar issues for EG, and Section IV concludes,
analyzing the two-way relationship between them.
II. Growth and its Impact on Human Development
Human development finds its theoretical underpinnings in Sen’s capabilities
approach which holds “a person’s capability to have various functioning vectors and to
∗ The assistance of Dan Keniston and Tavneet Suri is gratefully acknowledged.
enjoy the corresponding well-being achievements” to be the best indicator of welfare
(Sen, 1985). This perspective shifts the analysis of development to the vector of not only
attributes (as is the more traditional utilitarian or even the original basic needs view of
human welfare, see Streeten, 1979), e.g. income, education, health, but also the vector of
possible opportunities available to individuals in a particular state. Naturally, there is a
link between the two--these opportunities are affected by certain attributes of the
individual: a starving or uneducated person would have fewer choices than a healthy,
educated person. Yet the capabilities approach goes far beyond individual attributes to
analyze the role of the social environment on human choice and agency: an individual in
an open, free society would enjoy a larger set of potential functionings than one in a
closed, oppressive society. However, while capabilities make an appealing goal for
development, they are notoriously difficult to measure in that the full set of possible
human functionings is almost by definition unobservable.
The first major attempt to translate the capabilities approach into a tractable
ranking of nations came in the 1990 UNDP Human Development Report. The HDR’s
objective was to “capture better the complexity of human life” by providing a
quantitative approach to combining various socio-economic indicators into a measure of
human development (UNDP 1990). This was in contrast to the perceived prevailing
wisdom in development economics, as embodied in the World Development Reports,
whose “excessive preoccupation with GNP growth and national income accounts
has…supplanted a focus on ends by an obsession with merely the means” (UNDP 1990).
Yet the transformation from a normative theory of capabilities into a quantitative variable
was by no means an obvious task. The use of life expectancy, literacy, and GDP as
components of a Human Development Index admittedly constitutes a rough proxy and
simplification of the original capabilities theory.1 Notably missing were measures of
political freedom and income inequality. Furthermore, any quantitative ranking raises
difficult empirical questions, such as accounting for the decreasing marginal utility of
income, and the necessarily arbitrary weighting of each component of HD. Nevertheless,
the HDRs have had a strong influence on development thinking, causing developing
countries to publish their own national-level human development reports and indices and
modifying their policies.
Income growth clearly strikes one as the main contributor to directly increasing
the capabilities of individuals and consequently the human development of a nation since
it encapsulates the economy’s command over resources (Sen, 2000). For example, while
the citizens of the Indian state of Kerala have life expectancies and literacy rates
comparable to those of many developed countries, the fact that they cannot enjoy many
of the benefits of citizens of such countries (such as better housing, transportation, or
entertainment) demonstrates the importance of GDP as an instrument for achieving a
wide range of capabilities. However, GDP also has a strong effect on literacy and health
outcomes, both through private expenditures and government programs. Thus, insofar as
higher incomes facilitate the achievement of other crucial human development objectives,
it also has an indirect effect on human development.
The impact of economic growth on a nation’s human development level, of
course, also depends on other conditions of the society. One important component here is
the role of the distribution of income, both at a micro level within a household as well as
1 There is an ongoing debate on the usefulness of the Human Development Index as a measure of welfare.
See Srinivasan, 1994 and others.
at a macro level across households. At the micro level there is great potential for a
positive causality—individual and household consumption can be an important element
in increasing human development and may respond more closely to the real needs of the
population than do government programs. However, individual consumption may not
always go towards goods which contribute maximally to human development. In
societies where women contribute more to family income and have more influence on
household decision-making expenditures on human development-oriented goods are
likely to be relatively higher. For example, among Gambian households, the larger the
proportion of food under women’s control, the larger household calorie consumption
(Von Braun, 1988). Similarly, in the Philippines it has been shown that consumption of
calories and proteins increases with the share of income accruing directly to women
(Garcia, 1990). Also see Hoddinot and Haddad (1991) who look at the impact of intrahousehold
income distribution on child welfare.
At a macro level, the distribution of the increased income from economic growth
will also have a strong impact on human development. Since poorer households spend a
higher proportion of their income on goods which directly promote better health and
education, economic growth whose benefits are directed more towards the poor will have
a greater impact on human development, via increased food expenditure as well as on
education. For example, Birdsall, Ross and Sabot (1995) show that if the distribution of
income in Brazil were as equal as that in Malaysia, school enrollments among poor
children would be 40% higher.
The effects of economic growth on government human development expenditures
are bound to complement private expenditure channels. In fact, Anand and Ravallion
(1993) find that most of the effects of economic growth on HD are likely to flow through
government budgetary expenditures, central or local. However, the strength of this effect
depends entirely on the effectiveness of expenditure targeting and delivery. The
government must identify priority sectors such as primary education and health that have
the highest potential for HD improvement. Government expenditures for HD should be
distributed predominantly to low income groups and areas since it is here that the highest
marginal impact will be had. Government must also have the institutional capacity to
efficiently allocate these expenditures. Studies by Rajkumar and Swaroop (2002) have
demonstrated that the effectiveness of public expenditure is conditional on the quality of
governance, with government accountability likely to play an important role. While
empirical evidence here is more spotty, theory suggests that a decentralized, locally
accountable government system may have advantages in resource allocation and service
III. Human Development and its Impact on Growth
Human development, in turn, has important effects on economic growth. If a
central element of economic growth is allowing agents to discover and develop their
comparative advantage, an increase in the capabilities and functionings available to
individuals should allow more of them to pursue occupations in which they are most
productive. In this sense human development can be seen as the relaxing of constraints
which may have interfered with profit maximization. Furthermore, although human
development represents a broader concept, many of its elements overlap significantly
with the more traditional notion of human capital. Thus, to the extent that human
development is necessarily correlated with human capital and human capital affects the
economic growth of a nation, human development is bound to have an impact on
economic growth.
More specifically, each of the various components of human development is
likely to have a distinct impact on economic growth. Education, for instance, has a
strong effect on labour productivity. In agriculture, Birdsall (1993) uses data from
Malaysia, Ghana and Peru to show that each extra year of a farmer’s schooling is
associated with an annual increase in output of 2-5%. In Indonesia, Duflo (2000)
estimates an increase in wages of 1.5 to 2.7% for each additional school built per 1,000
children. In addition to its direct effect on productivity, education also affects the rate of
innovation and technological improvements. Foster and Rosenzweig (1995) demonstrate
that increased education is associated with faster technology adoption in Green
Revolution India. Similarly, higher education levels have been shown to increase
innovation in businesses in Sri Lanka. In this sense human development may also enter
into an Uzawa-Lucas type endogenous growth model as a factor affecting growth rates
through its effect on technological change. Statistical analysis of the clothing and
engineering industries in Sri Lanka (Deraniyagala, 1995), to cite just one example,
showed that the skill and education levels of workers and entrepreneurs were positively
related to the rate of technical change of the firm. Education alone, of course, cannot
transform an economy. The quantity and quality of investment, domestic and foreign,
together with the choice of technology and overall policy environment, constitute other
important determinants of economic performance. The quality of private entrepreneurs,
of public policy-makers and of investment decisions generally, is bound to be influenced
by the education of both officials and managers; moreover, the volume of both domestic
and foreign investment and the rates of total factor productivity will undoubtedly be
higher when a system's human capital level is higher.
Health has also demonstrated positive effects on economic growth beyond its
inherent desirability as an end in itself. Strauss and Thomas (1998) review a large
literature documenting how improvements in health and nutrition improve productivity
and incomes. Schultz (2000) finds correlations between height and income in his
analysis of data from Ghana, Cote d-Ivoire, Brazil, and Vietnam. A range of labour
productivity gains has been observed associated with calorie intake increases in poor
countries, (Cornia and Stewart, 1995), including studies of farmers in Sierra Leone
(Strauss, 1986), sugar cane workers in Guatemala (Immink and Viteri, 1981), and road
construction workers in Kenya (Wolgemuth, Latham, Hall, and Crompton, 1982). In
these cases productivity enhancement appears to follow fairly immediately as current
intakes of calories or micro-nutrients are increased.
Education and health may also have strong indirect impacts on economic growth
through their effect on the distribution of income, and education even more so through its
impact on health (for example, Behrman and Wolfe, 1987b provide evidence of the
impact of women’s education on family health and nutrition). As education and health
improve and become more broadly based, low income people are better able to seek out
economic opportunities. For example, a study of the relation between schooling, income
inequality and poverty in 18 countries of Latin America in the 1980s found that one
quarter of the variation in workers' incomes was accounted for by variations in schooling
attainment; it concludes that “clearly, education is the variable with the strongest impact
on income equality'' (Psacharopolous et al., 1992). And a more equal distribution of
income is known to favor growth for both economic and political economy reasons.
Education may also affect per capita income growth via its impact on the
denominator, i.e. population growth. For example, a study of 14 African countries in the
mid-1980s showed a negative correlation between female schooling and fertility in
almost all countries, with primary education having a negative impact in about half the
countries and no significant effects in the other half, while secondary education
invariably reduced fertility (Birdsall, Ross and Sabot, 1995); (Jayaraman, 1995); (Strauss
and Thomas, 1995); (Thomas, Strauss and Henriques, 1991); (Behrman and Wolfe,

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