Human Development Index map

Argentina’s HDI: The Wikipedia’s Worst Map?

Argentina HDI Wikipedia MapAlthough the Wikipedia includes a multitude of fine maps, its cartographic archive is by no means uniformly excellent. Perhaps the worst Wikipedia map that I have encountered, posted to the left, depicts Argentinian provinces in accordance with their HDI (Human Development Index*) rankings. As can be seen, all provinces are placed in the same category, that of “very high HDI,” although the key includes unused colors indicating “high” and “medium” levels of development. As the map depicts no differences among Argentina’s provinces, it is essentially meaningless.


I suspect that the map was posted mainly to emphasize Argentina’s relatively high levels of socio-economic development and in so doing provide a little praise for the economically troubled country. A nationalistic orientation is indicated as well by the inclusion of the Falkland/Malvinas islands, which are claimed by Argentina but are not part of it. Also significant is the fact that the map uses official Argentine information rather than the more standard UN figures that give a lower HDI number for the country as a whole. As Argentina’s own economic data, especially in regard to inflation, is notoriously inaccurate, one might be inclined to favor the UN’s assessment. The Wikipedia article that accompanies the map, however, gives a straightforward explanation of the disparity:

The last report is from 2013 and covers data from 2012. It is elaborated by the United Nations in conjunction with the Argentine Senate. It is important to note that unlike the UN’s Human Development Index where Argentina has an index of 0.811 in 2012, the government of Argentina says it has an index of 0.848. This difference is caused because, on the province report, the average family income is used, while on the global report the UN uses the GDP per capita (PPP) to measure the income.

Argentina HDI by Province MapWhatever its validity may be, the Argentine data provided in the Wikipedia article does allow the mapping of HDI variation across the country. I have therefore constructed a map based on this information, which is posted to the left. As can be seen, human development figures are lowest in the north-central part of the country and highest in the south and the center, although the top-most figure is unsurprisingly that of the city of Buenos Aires. As will be seen in the next GeoCurrents post, this pattern deviates slightly from those found on maps of other economic indicators, which show a more stronger marked north/south divide (with Argentina’s south being much more prosperous than its north).

HDI World MapThe U.N.’s official Human Development Index does place Argentina in the highest basic category, that of “very high” development. But Argentina barely makes this position, as it ranks 49th out of 49 countries in the category. An alternative UN HDI ranking, moreover, places Argentina in a lower grouping. This scheme takes into account economic inequality, which is HDI Inequality-Adjusted World Maprelatively pronounced in Argentina. The United States also falls considerably in this revised HDI ranking, dropping below Greece, Estonia, and Slovakia. But as several GeoCurrents readers have pointed out, measurements of inequality are themselves highly problematic, just as inequality itself is difficult to factor into assessments of socio-economic development.

* As defined by the Wikipedia, the HDI:

is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators, which is used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. It was developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, is anchored in the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s work on human capabilities, often framed in terms of whether people are able to “be” and “do” desirable things in life, and was published by the United Nations Development Programme.

The Human Development Index in Africa and Across the World

The increasingly standard way to measure development is through the Human Development Index (HDI), a composite statistical tool devised by the United Nations Development Program. The HDI measures wealth and wellbeing across three axes: life expectancy, education, and income. The individual components are themselves involved; “education levels,” for example, are pegged according to a separate “education index” that entails literacy rates as well as enrollment levels for primary, secondary, and tertiary schools. New statistical methodology was introduced for the 2010 report, which was released on November 4. More complex versions of the index, taking into account such factors as levels of inequality, are also available. For those interested, the Human Development Report websiteoffers a treasure-trove of statistical resources.On the four-level HDI map posted above at the top, the old “First World” of wealthy, market-oriented countries shows up clearly in dark blue, with the notable additions of South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UAE, and several countries in Central Europe. But the Third World, or Global South, is not so easily discerned. The map’s second quartile category, questionably labeled as the zone of “high development,” encompasses most of Latin America, the Middle East, and Russia along with eastern Europe. So-called Monsoon Asia—South, East, and Southeast Asia— largely occupies the third quartile, and sub-Saharan Africa basically makes up the fourth.

The second map posted above, which divides the same data into five-levels, gives a different picture. “Monsoon Asia,” for example, splits into a mid-level east and an upper-lower southwest. The rankings of a number of countries here are unexpected. The United Kingdom, for example, is mapped as less developed than Greece. Partly this is a matter of the top category cutting off at .85 and the UK coming in at .849. But Britain’s poor showing may still indicate problems with the methodology employed, as by most measures it remains well ahead of Greece. Singapore’s failure to make the top category is also perplexing, as is that of Qatar and the other small Persian Gulf states. Such ranking oddities seem to stem largely from the education index, which puts a high valuation on college enrollment figures.

Africa stands out clearly on five-fold map, as it dominates the lowest category. Of the 21 countries with HDI figures below 4.0, all but one (Afghanistan) are in Africa. But the map shows that it is not the continent of Africa that occupies the bottom slot, but rather tropical Africa. Both North Africa and far southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia) evince much higher levels of human development. The HDI figures for mainland tropical Africa range from low to extremely low, with Equatorial Guinea and Gabon forming the only exceptions, based on their small populations and large oil reserves.

The five-level map still fails to capture human development variability in sub-Saharan Africa. Its bottom threshold of “below .40” is still far above the .181 figure marked for Zimbabwe. The gap between Tanzania (.398) and second-lowest ranking DR Congo (.239) is still substantial, yet remains invisible on the map. The final map therefore provides a more detailed depiction of HDI rankings in the region.

The HDI scores give rough indications of socio-economic conditions, but they tell us nothing about progress, or its absence. A country with relatively high figures could be experiencing long-term decline, just as one with low figures could be making rapid gains. Several African countries fall into the latter category. Mozambique may be placed at the fifth lowest position in the world, but as the graph above shows, it has made major strides since the end of its civil war in 1992. Mozambique is thus a developing country, but the same cannot be said for neighboring Zimbabwe. Before 1990, Zimbabwe was progressing so rapidly that it seemed poised to join the mid-level category occupied by South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. But the agricultural expropriation schemes initiated by Robert Mugabe put an end to all of that, sending Zimbabwe into a developmental tailspin. But to be fair, Zimbabwe might not occupy the lowest position in the world; HDI figures have not been gathered for Somalia in years. I have mapped it in the second lowest category in deference to Somaliland, but I imagine that the rest of Somalia would rank at the bottom of the chart.