This month, the UN released its annual measure of the standard of living in countries around the world. The Human Development Index is a collection of data that tells us roughly if conditions in a country, such as the amount of schooling, life expectancy, income, etc., allow its people to develop their potential.

It also measures inequities in these areas among a country’s general population and between the genders.

I had a very quick zoom through the reports for the countries in TOL’s coverage area and the good news is that all are progressing up the scales (in absolute terms – their rankings may have slipped, but, as the report cautions, we can’t compare this year and last year because more countries joined the pool and the methodology changed). Though for some, like Azerbaijan, that progress is infinitesimal.

A few things that caught my eye, briefly:

Not all countries have been participating for the same length of time, but of the eight “TOL countries” in the report whose data go as far back as 1990 – Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine – Hungary has seen the biggest jump in its standard of living, Ukraine the smallest.

Which of our countries had the biggest inequalities among its citizens in income, education, and health? Tajikistan, Macedonia, and Croatia and Uzbekistan (tied) in that order.

The most equitable societies were the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Montenegro.

One last note: Hungary comes out as a pretty equitable society as well. When you pair that with its overall movement up the index, you get a slightly more optimistic story of the country’s recent history than we’re used to hearing.

Photo by Allison Marchant/flickr

Barbara Frye

Barbara Frye is Transitions Online’s managing editor. Email:

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