One of the primary challenges in understanding countries in relation to one another is the sheer diversity of the world. How do we compare the economies of very large countries to very small countries? Is there a way to talk about the comparative political stability of a country? How do we measure progress in attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals when a day in the life in one place can seem so far removed from that in another? Even an attempt to quantify aspects of a single country is difficult due to its internal heterogeneity.
While quantitative data can never fully encapsulate a country or its people, and there will always be some level of controversy and criticism around what data is included and how it is interpreted, composite statistics and comparative indices can be useful tools to provide context for the relationships between countries. Below is listing of some metrics and statistics that can be helpful in discussions of international relations.
1. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP)
While these two measures are related, they look at a country’s economic activities in slightly different ways. According to The Economist, GDP “is calculated by adding the total value of a country's annual output of goods and services.” A version of this number is often used when assessing the relative size of a national (or supranational, as with the European Union) economy. To calculate a country’s GNP, which can be viewed as a country’s gross national income, one
adds to the GDP the income a country’s residents have earned from investments in other countries and subtracts the income a country’s residents remit to other countries.
2. Human Development Index (HDI)
According to the United Nations Development Programme, the HDI “is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living. The HDI is the geometric mean of normalized indices for each of the three dimensions.” The HDI (and its newer cousin, the Inequality-Adjusted HDI) is an attempt to understand the development of a country through the lens of its people rather just looking at measures of economic output and growth.
3. Gender Development Index (GDI)
Related to the HDI above and also calculated by the United Nations Development Programme, the GDI “is a direct measure of gender gap showing the female HDI as a percentage of the male HDI.” The GDI provides an additional layer information regarding gender parity within a country relative to the rest of the world.
4. Gini Coefficient
According to the World Bank, the Gini coefficient of inequality “is the most commonly used measure of inequality.” Originally developed by its namesake Corrado Gini in 1912, the Gini coefficient can provide a shorthand way to understand economic inequality within a country; it ranges from 0 (complete equality) to 1 (complete inequality, where “one person has all the income or consumption, all others have none”).
5. Global Peace Index (GPI)
The GPI was developed in 2007 by the Institute of Economics and Peace. It is a “composite index of 23 indicators weighted and combined into one overall score.” Usefully, the GPI looks at both internal and external peace, giving a slight weight to internal peace. In this way, the GPI provides a metric to assess the level of peace (and the level of conflict) for a country as experienced by its residents.
6. Global Open Data Index (GODI)
Developed by Open Knowledge International, the GODI asks a very specific question about a country’s national government: “How do governments around the world publish open data?” Rather than trying to be a broad assessment of a country’s status and development, the GODI seeks to measure how open governments are with their data. One of the underlying assumptions of the GODI is that “for the key data categories [surveyed], the government has a responsibility to ensure their publication.”
7. World Happiness Report
Based on data from the Gallup World Poll, the World Happiness Report is based on survey scores from nationally representative samples. Aspects of the happiness ranking include GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.
As you can see from this sampling of metrics, there are myriad ways to use data, statistics, and comparative analysis to provide context to the situations, progress, and well-being of the countries world. Data allows us to understand some of the differences and similarities between countries and how these countries and relationships change over time. Be sure to check out the Global Education Resources page on the International Relations Council’s website to learn more.
Kit Dawson is the Business Intelligence Strategist for the PKD Foundation.