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Human Capabilities and Economic Development:The Extreme Outlier Societies

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

Abstract One of the problems Amartya Sen raised in his capabilities approach was: why do people in some societies realize a much lower level of various kinds of human capabilities than would be expected on the basis of their GDP per capita, while other societies do better than expected? This paper focuses on six capabilities and functionings: life expectancy, schooling, living in a society with less income inequality and less gender inequality, political freedom and life satisfaction. Empirically I start with data on 156 societies and use regression analysis and case diagnostics to identify societies that are extreme outliers. These are identified as Singapore, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, each of which does significantly worse than expected (given their relatively high level of economic development) on two or more of the six capabilities. I then use qualitative analysis to specify, through “process-tracing”, the causal mechanisms that explain why these particular societies are so “unbalanced” in the relationship between their economic development and their human capabilities.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, Brown University Providence, RI, 02912 USA


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