Beyond GDP: UN looks at alternative measures of the wealth of nations - including birdsong, the number of girls attending school and a good night's sleep

The monetary value of the goods and services produced by a nation fail to reflect its social and environmental 'wealth', experts say

Levels of urban birdsong, the density of washing-machine ownership, the average number of hours slept and other eclectic statistics should be combined with traditional economic indicators to produce a truer picture of the wealth of nations, according to leading academics.

A United Nations conference will on Monday discuss calls for the way in which governments measure economic progress, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures, to be overhauled by factoring in some more unconventional measurements of progress.

Researchers increasingly believe that unorthodox indicators, ranging from the availability of cheap eyeglasses to the level of random of acts of kindness in a society, should be collated to produce a more insightful and rounded picture of human endeavour.

While measures such as GDP – the monetary value of the goods and services produced by a nation – remain keystones of economic comparison, they fail to reflect social and environmental “wealth” as well as causes of social tension, according to the experts.

Organisers of the conference in Malaysia said the global financial crisis had provoked a widespread sense that economic progress no longer equated with greater well-being, and growth in recent decades had been for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.

Professor Anantha Duraiappah, of the UN University, which is co-hosting the symposium, said: “New research has begun to show that people often value non-material wealth just as highly, if not more, than monetary wealth.

“Moreover, as countries develop, there are diminishing returns to quality of life from economic output.

“Indeed, the relationship becomes increasingly contentious and questionable. Growing inequality within and across nations is becoming a force for social tension and conflict in developing and developed countries alike,” she added.

New global measurements suggested by the experts include birth weight, which is an indicator of a child’s likely future quality of life; the number and sound of birds in a city, an indicator of biodiversity; and ownership of washing machines, whose requirement for piped water and electricity make them a good measure of development as well as the economic emancipation  of women.

The availability of eyeglasses is also a surprisingly effective way of measuring development – some 700 million people worldwide need glasses but cannot get them, costing the global economy an estimated $202bn (£120bn) a year.

Sir Partha Dasgupta, the eminent Cambridge University economist who is a pioneer in the area and oversaw the development of a new UN measure of so-called “human capital”, said statistics needed to reflect costs such as the regeneration of environmental assets.

He said: “We need to stretch the notion of ‘investment’. To leave a forest unmolested would be to invest in the forest; to allow a fishery to re-stock under natural conditions would be to invest in the fishery.”

The academics are calling on the UN to launch a programme to look at formalising the so-called “Beyond GDP” measurements, which could also include the number of teenage girls attending school (fewer than one in five girls attend a secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa) or average hours of sleep –  an indicator of the strength of social bonds and  emotional intelligence.

Zakri Abdul Hamid, a scientific adviser to the UN Secretary General, said: “GDP and other traditional yardsticks will continue to inform our understanding of economic performance, but the world’s perspective on progress needs to be enlarged, balanced and integrated with social and environmental indicators.”

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam