New Inequalities Slowing Progress in Human Development, Report Warns

New Inequalities Slowing Progress in Human Development, Report Warns

Despite recent progress against poverty, hunger, and disease, inequalities in areas such as education, access to technology, and climate impacts are widening, hampering progress toward achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a report from the United Nations Development Programme warns.

According to the Human Development Report 2019: Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today: Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century (HTML or PDF, 366 pages), the 2019 Human Development Index and the 2019 Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Index show that 20 percent of human development progress in 2018 was lost through widening disparities in education, health, and living standards. A comprehensive assessment of human development beyond income and wealth finds that gaps persist in rates of infant mortality, children out of school, and extreme poverty, and that inequalities in human development can start before birth, are interconnected, and accumulate through life, frequently heightened by deep power imbalances. To address such disparities, the report's authors call for policies that prioritize investments in early childhood education, health, and nutrition, as well as increased public spending and fairer taxation.

The report also argues that a "revolution in metrics" is needed to assess the multiple dimensions and complex dynamics of poverty and inequality, while its new social norms index finds that resistance to gender equality is growing — among both men and women. Given that much of the difference in what men and women earn over their lifetime is set before the age of 40, the report recommends policies aimed at fostering a more equal distribution of care, especially for children.

"This Human Development Report sets out how systemic inequalities are deeply damaging our society and why," said UNDP administrator Achim Steiner. "Inequality is not just about how much someone earns compared to their neighbor. It is about the unequal distribution of wealth and power: the entrenched social and political norms that are bringing people onto the streets today, and the triggers that will do so in the future unless something changes. Recognizing the real face of inequality is a first step; what happens next is a choice that each leader must make."