San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Social inequality

Latin American countries outpacing Costa Rica's Human Development Index, despite improvements

Inequality and access to education are Costa Rica’s most pressing issues, according to the United Nations Development Program’s 2014 Human Development Index  (HDI), released Thursday.

The report measures human develop through three factors: life expectancy, access to education and the ability to live a dignified life.

Costa Rica ranked 11th in Latin America and the Caribbean and 68th out of the 187 countries surveyed. The 10 regional countries that scored higher than Costa Rica are: Chile (41), Cuba (44), Argentina (49), Uruguay (50), Bahamas (51), Barbados (59), Antigua and Barbuda (61), Trinidad and Tobago (64), Panama (65) and Venezuela (67).

Norway topped the 2014 list while Niger ranked last in the HDI.

“Costa Rica has shown important advances in its human development during the last several decades. Since 1980 average age rose 7.4 years; the average year of schooling and expected schooling has grown 3 and 3.9 years,” said UNDP Resident Representative Yoriko Yasukawa in a statement.

The report highlighted Costa Rica as an example of how to provide universal services to the public despite limited resources and lower levels of development. Costa Rica was in good company, listed alongside Sweden, Norway, Denmark and South Korea, when it came to recognizing long-term investment in education, health and social security.

The UNDP considered inequality a huge mark against Costa Rica. Yasukawa stressed that the country should work to ensure that Costa Rica’s economic growth is more equally distributed, especially when it comes to women and minorities, including Afro-descendent Costa Ricans, indigenous peoples and the LGBT community. The UN representative said that these groups struggle with access to political participation, employment and dignified salaries.

The report lauded Costa Rica for its relatively high female participation in politics and the workforce, where it reached 46.4 percent.

Costa Rica’s indicators have continued to improve over the years, according to the report, but improvements in other countries in the Americas are overtaking the Central American country’s progress.

Costa Rica ranked 96th in the world for average years of education at 8.4 years. The United States and Germany tied for first place in average years of education at 12.9 years each. In the region, Bahamas (10.9), Trinidad and Tobago (10.8), Cuba (10.2), Argentina and Chile (9.8), Panama and Barbados (9.4), Belize (9.3), Bolivia (9.2), Peru (9.0), Antigua and Barbuda (8.9), Venezuela, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Granada (8.6), Guyana, Mexico and Uruguay (8.5), reported higher average years of schooling.

Per capita Gross National Income (purchasing power parity in 2011 numbers) rose to $13.012 in 2013, exceeding the figure in 2012. Bahamas, Chile, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Brazil, and Barbados all outscored Costa Rica. The Gulf Arab nation Qatar topped the list for GNI at $119.

Costa Ricans’ average life expectancy of 79.9 years was behind Chile (80) in the Americas, but still outpaced Cuba (79.3), Dominica (77.7) Panama (77.6) and Mexico (77.5).

“Even though the country has important challenges like ensuring access for all people to public services, especially health and education, Costa Rica’s results are historically hopeful and make us optimistic that the country will take action to achieve this soon,” said Yasukawa.

Read the full report here.

Contact Zach Dyer at

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Marvelous Marv

Unequal access to education and widening income disparity are cancers to any society, especially a small and developing country like Costa Rica. It destroys the social fabric that binds all citizens together. Rather than highly tax the well off and engage in gross income redistribution schemes, education, job training, health care and day care access should be more strongly emphasized and expanded. Excess consumption should be strategically taxed to restrain blatant consumerism. Lastly, the school system should teach civics that emphasize the importance of every citizens work to the nation. Capitalism creates have nots but the playing field can be made more fair through education, job training, greater foreign investment and available of equal opportunity for any citizen to realize their potential and to contribute in their own way to society as a whole.

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