Ireland ranked fourth in the world for living conditions, UN report finds

Quality of life rising faster here than anywhere else, says Human Development Index

Living conditions have improved faster in Ireland than anywhere else in the world over the past five years, according to a newly published United Nations report.

Ireland now ranks fourth in the world in the UN’s Human Development Index, a widely-accepted measure of living conditions or quality of life across the globe.

Between 2012 and 2017, Ireland jumped 13 places on the index published yearly by the UN Development Programme, and now sits behind only Norway, Switzerland and Australia.

The HDI is a composite index focusing on three basic dimensions of human development: the ability to lead a long and healthy life, measured by life expectancy at birth; the ability to acquire knowledge, measured by mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling; and the ability to achieve a decent standard of living, measured by gross national income per capita.


It was drawn up with the aim of encouraging governments to take a wider view of development than one based on purely economic criteria.

The lowest places on the HDI are occupied by African countries - Niger, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Chad and Burundi.

While Ireland has moved faster up the rankings than any other of the 189 countries under consideration, it is ranked less favourably when it comes to gender inequality, lying in 23rd position. It also slips to 11th place when the index is adjusted to take account of inequality.

The gender index shows women here account for 24.3 per cent of seats held in parliament, compared to top-ranked Switzerland's 29.3 per cent. Women in Sweden, ranked third overall in gender stakes, account for 43.6 per cent of parliamentary seats.

Last year, life expectancy for Irish women was 83.6 and 79.7 for men. A child born today in Norway, the country with the highest HDI, can expect to live beyond 82 years, while in Niger, the country with the lowest HDI, life expectancy is just 60.

In Ireland the amount of years spent in schooling was 19.7 for women and 19.5 for men. In Niger, this period is just five years.

"Children in low human development countries can expect to be in school seven years less than children in very high human development countries," said Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator.

“While these statistics present a stark picture in themselves, they also speak to the tragedy of millions of individuals whose lives are affected by inequity and lost opportunities, neither of which are inevitable.”

Average HDI levels have risen significantly since 1990 - 22 per cent globally and 51 per cent among the least developed countries.

This, according to the UN, reflects that “on average people are living longer, are more educated and have greater income. But there remain massive differences across the world in people’s well-being.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times