GDP per capita measures the value of goods and services produced within a country in any given year, divided by the number of inhabitants. Hence, GDP per capita is a common metric used to approximate average income per head within a country, and thus an indicator of both the level of development within the country as well as its general standard of living. GDP per capita is extremely simple to understand, widely-available across the world over long spans of time, with international comparability ensured via reputable data sources like the World Bank which adjust GDP per capita for inflation and exchange rates. The obvious drawback relates to its simplicity, since it focuses on economic outcomes without considering other important facets of wellbeing like the environment or governance. Given its ubiquity, GDP per capita data for Malta is readily-available from multiple sources across long time periods, depending on the source. More information is available here.
Human Development Index
The Human Development Index (HDI) is published annually by the United Nations (UN). It assesses the long-term progress of a country in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy), access to knowledge (measured by the mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling) and the standard of living (measured by GNI per capita). Given its reliance on four basic metrics, the HDI is relatively simple and easy to understand, and is widely-available over a long timeframe (since 1990) across 190 countries around the world, facilitating cross-country comparisons. On the downside, the HDI omits key aspects of wellbeing like the environment, governance and wealth, thus providing a somewhat incomplete picture of the true state of wellbeing within a country. The data pertaining to Malta covers the period 1990 to the present, and is currently ranked 28th out of 190 countries in terms of the level of human development. Malta fairs relatively well in terms of the long and healthy life measure component of the HDI whilst recording lower scores in relation to other countries both in the measure for access to knowledge and the standard of living. More information is available here.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index – Global
The SDG Index was developed as a quantitative dashboard to keep track of individual country progress towards the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 by the United Nations. Collated by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the index includes 170 quantitative targets across each of the SDGs, spanning a wide variety of topics like no poverty, climate action, gender equality and decent work and economic growth. The SDG Index is extremely comprehensive, covering various aspects of wellbeing, while also covering almost 200 countries around the world to ensure maximum comparability. On the other hand, the dataset has a relatively short time span, commencing in 2015, although recent efforts have been made to retroactively assign scores across countries back to 2000. In addition, the sprawling nature of the index means that it is somewhat difficult to interpret the single index value due to its inherent complex, coupled with the inevitable existence of several missing data points, which leads to questions regarding what the index is managing to capture. The index has also been accused of being a one-size-fits-all value with limited applicability to small countries and more developed nations. The dataset for Malta commences from 2016, although it is important to point out that this should be extended to 2000 imminently. At present, Malta ranks 33rd out of 193 countries, comparable to other high-income countries around the world, with key shortcomings in areas like zero hunger (due to obesity), responsible production and consumption, climate action and life below water. More information is available here.
Better Life Index
The Better Life Index (BLI) was developed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It consists of a set of 11 indicators which include housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance, covering 35 countries. The dataset was launched in 2011, with the most recent version of the index published in 2020. The index covers many relevant aspects of wellbeing, without the complexity of the SDG Index, and the methodology is based on the recommendations of the famed Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission, with adjustments made over the years to better refine the measurement. On the flipside, the BLI is limited to OECD countries, while the use of relative scales as opposed to absolute values has been criticised since the score of a country can be bad not because its performance is intrinsically bad but because one or several other countries have better performances in a particular domain. Since Malta is not part of the OECD, no data related to the BLI is available. More information is available here.
Human Capital Index
The Human Capital Index (HCI) quantifies the contribution of health and education to the productivity of workers within a country. Developed by the World Bank, the HCI includes six components that collectively are used to compute the country-specific scores for human capital, namely the probability of child survival to the age of 5, expected years of school, harmonized test scores, learning-adjusted years of school, adult survival rate to the age of 60 and the healthy (not stunted) growth rate. The HCI was launched in 2018 and covers 174 countries from around the world. Therefore, much like the other indicators produced by global institutions, the HCI is very international in scope and is produced by a reputable source, with individual analytical briefs provided for each country by the World Bank in order to contextualize the results for each year. The HCI is also relatively simple to compute and understand, focusing on a limited set of variables centered around education and health. However, the HCI is also very limited in scope, ignoring other key elements of wellbeing including economic outcomes and the natural environment, and the length of the time series is too short to assess progress within each country, particularly given the longer-term nature of education and health indicators, although the World Bank has calculated the HCI across all countries for 2010 for comparative purposes. In 2020, Malta ranked 32nd in the world, higher than the average for high-income countries within the sample, both overall and for each specific metric. More information on the HCI is available here.
Gallup’s global research powers the World Happiness Report, a groundbreaking benchmark from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Using the Gallup World Poll, Gallup measures life satisfaction ratings and emotional wellbeing and captures the important context that GDP does not explain: how people feel about their lives and what’s happening in them.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) assesses the ability of countries to provide high levels of prosperity to their citizens. This in turn depends on how productively a country uses available resources. Therefore, the GCI measures the set of institutions, policies, and factors that set the sustainable current and medium-term levels of economic prosperity. The GCI is available for 141 countries, and was first published in 2004, although since then various adjustments have been made to the methodology which limits the comparability of data over time. The GCI is very international in scope, and captures various elements of wellbeing as prescribed by the literature. The key shortcomings relate to the lack of comparability over time, as well as its heavy focus on economic outcomes and related activities. Data for Malta is available from 2008, although these are not directly comparable to the latest rankings for 2019. In 2019, Malta ranked 38th out of 141 countries, down two places compared to 2018, with weaknesses identified in areas like infrastructure, skills and market structure. More information is available here.