World Development Indicators (WDI) are an extensive and holistic compilation of data by the World Bank on global development. It has more than 1,300 time series development indicators featuring 214 nations and around 30 country groups. These indicators can be compared horizontally across countries, and are helpful to students, policymakers, analysts, officials, among others. The compilation of World Development Indicators, which is published annually (updated quarterly online in April, July, September and December), is a result of years of hard work put in by many people, private organizations, officially recognized sources and government agencies at various levels. (See: What Is The World Bank)

The World Development Indicators are categorized under different topics for easy understanding and coverage. Let’s take a look at these themes along with the major indicators under each (in no particular order).

  • Agriculture & Rural Development

Agriculture is the source of livelihood for approximately 70% of the world’s population. Over the years, challenges to produce enough food and other agricultural products (for rural as well as urban population) have increased. The degradation and depletion of land and water have been major trouble factors affecting output and productivity. The main indicators for this topic are employment in agriculture (% of total employment), agricultural irrigated land (% of total agricultural land), agricultural land (% of land area), agriculture value added (% of GDP), arable land (% of land area), agricultural machinery, tractors per 100 km2 of arable land, etc.

  • Economy & Growth

Economic growth and economic development are two different things: Economic development is a broader criterion of measuring progress. Economic growth is a pre requisite for economic development. This section brings various measures and indicators which can help economists and policy makers analyze country wise situations better. The indicators represent various aspects of economic growth – GDP growth (annual %), GDP per capita (current US$), import of goods and services (% of GDP), inflation (annual %), total reserves (includes gold, current US$), among others.

  • Social Development

Social development is a key factor in any nation's overall progress. Analyzing aspects like child labor, gender issues, refugees and asylum seekers gives a fair idea about the social challenges a country is facing. The main indicators here are children in employment (% of children between ages 7-14), refugee population by country or territory of origin, proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%), vulnerable employment (% of female or male population).

  • Environment

The World Bank actively promotes environmental upgrading in the developing world. Forests, biodiversity, emissions and pollution are covered under this section with indicators like water pollution, specific industry (% of total BOD, ie organic water pollutant) emissions, threatened plant species, forest area (% of land area).

  • Financial Sector

The financial sector is one of the most important sectors of an economy. Crucial data related to stock markets, banking, financial system, international migration and remittances is covered in this segment. A few key indicators include real interest rate (%), bank capital to asset ratio (%), market capitalization of listed companies (% of GDP), and domestic credit provided by the financial sector (% of GDP).

  • Energy & Mining

A nation's energy needs increase as it moves higher on the path of economic growth. Currently, many experts are concerned that the current consumption and usage trends are not sustainable for a very long time. Thus, country-specific data about energy use and requirement is vital to assess how long nations can sustain themselves with these limited resources and what are the alternatives. A major contribution to this data comes from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. A few key indicators include energy use (kt of oil equivalent), energy production (kt of oil equivalent), alternative and nuclear energy (% of total energy use).

  • Health

This segment focuses on issues related to primary health, immunizations, sanitation, access to safe drinking water etc. It includes statistics on disease prevention, population, nutrition, etc. Indicators displaying these facts are the death rate, crude (per 1,000 people), health expenditure (% of GDP), population growth (annual %), health expenditure per capita (current US$), among others.

  • Infrastructure

Infrastructure is the backbone of any economy and real progress is always inclusive of it. The data for this section comes from many sources like the International Road Federation, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Telecommunications Union, and the IEA. Indicators are internet users (per 100 people), electric power consumption (kWh per capita), rail lines (total route-km), air transport, and registered carrier departures worldwide, etc.

  • Poverty

Poverty is one of the primary areas the World Bank is working to fix, in collaboration with other agencies. The data here covers the extent of poverty and inequality through indicators like the poverty gap, population below the national poverty line (%), income share held by the lowest 10%, income share held by the lowest 20%, income share held by the highest 10%, etc.

  • External Debt

The position of an economy’s financial flows, borrowings, and loans is covered under the topic external debt. The data when studied closely shows the flow of money in the global system – assistance, loans, borrowings and aid. The majority of data in this section is from national statistical organizations, central banks and the World Bank. Key indicators are net flows on external debt, use of IMF credit, total debt service (% of exports of good & services and primary income).

  • Gender

This segment is dedicated to issues like women empowerment and gender equality. The data here covers labor force, health, education, demography and political participation. Births attended by skilled health staff (% of total), prevalence of HIV among females (% ages 15-24), and employees (industry, female) are few of the indicators.

  • Private Sector

The private sector has an important role to play in a nation’s economic growth. The major indicators that help judge the level and progress of the economies private sector are total tax rate (% of commercial profits), trade in services (% of GDP), domestic credit held by the private sector (% of GDP), the number of new businesses registered and more.

  • Public Sector

A stable and effective government ensures that the country is developing. A developing nation shows an improvement its living standard with access to basic facilities – health, water, education, electricity. Some indicators covered under this section are cash surplus/deficit (% of GDP), central government debt, total (% of GDP), military expenditure (% of GDP), and revenue excluding grants (% of GDP).

  • Science & Technology

The section covers information related to technological innovation, research and development, trademarks, patents, licenses, and royalty. The data is collected through multiple sources and gives an overview of the technological advancement of a country. Indicators under this sector are patent applications, trademark applications, research & development expenditure (% of GDP), high technology exports (current US$), etc.

  • Social Protection & Labor

Data pertaining to the supply of labor in a given country is compiled by the International Labor Organization (ILO) through surveys and records at employment exchanges. The main indicators are employment in agriculture (% of total employment), GDP per person employed (constant 1990 PPP $), labor force participation rate (% of total population ages 15+).

  • Climate Change

Developing countries have sure been hit by this factor in the form of weather-related disasters, rising temperatures, rise in sea levels, etc. These factors have affected the agricultural output, food production. There is a lot of valuable data here which covers energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, exposure too climate impacts, etc with indicators like access to electricity (% of population), CO2 emissions (metric tonne per capita), land area where elevation is below 5 meters (% of total land area), forest area (% of land area), etc.

  • Trade

Trade plays a vital role in bringing the world together catering to the needs of individual nations. The indicators measure the size and direction of trade, dependence on exports and imports. Some of the indicators are imports of goods and services (% of GDP), exports of goods and services (% of GDP), merchandise trade (% of GDP), high-technology exports (% of manufactured exports), and energy imports (% of energy use). (See: The Effect Of Trade On International Growth)

  • Urban Development

Urbanization comes at a cost, especially in developing countries, since in the latter case, expansion usually happens ad hoc and not by prior planning. The byproducts of urbanization include more congestion, traffic, air pollution, scarcity of water, among other issues. The data for this section is pooled from sources like the United Nations Population Division, World Health Organization, World Resource Institute, etc. This data in turn yields indicators like urban population (% of total), poverty gap at urban poverty line (%), population in the largest city (% of urban population), and improved water source (% of urban population with access).

  • Education

Education is considered a powerful tool for bringing equality in a society by reducing poverty and thus helping in all round development of an economy. Organizations like UNESCO Institute of Statistics are the main providers of data on education. The main indicators in this category are school enrollment, primary (% gross), children out of school, literacy rate, trained teachers in primary education (% of total teachers), primary completion rate (% of relevant age group), etc. (See: How Education And Training Affect The Economy)

  • Aid Effectiveness

Many lesser-developed regions receive monetary and humanitarian aid from various international organizations or developed countries. Measuring the effectiveness of this aid gives important insight into whether such measures have helped in poverty reduction, reducing inequality, capacity building, improving health and education along with other measures of human welfare. Some examples of indicators under this category include improved sanitation facilities (% of population with access), net migration, the mortality rate for children under the age of five years (per 1,000 birth lives), net official development assistance received (current US$), mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people), etc.

The Bottom Line

The development indicators by the World Bank are a store of high quality data with coverage going back to the year 1960 (for most data). It is extremely useful for many reasons, be it understanding the country-specific development or monitoring the progress in less developed nations. These indicators give a deep comparative and individual insight into all aspects which are linked to development and not just growth. These indicators additionally provide great information to investors or companies looking to invest outside their home nation, as they present a reliable and accurate picture of a country or region.