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Living Free and Equal

In the quarter-century since the publication in 1990 of the first Human Development Report, the world has made astounding strides in reducing poverty and improving the health, education, and living conditions of hundreds of millions of people. And yet, as impressive as these gains may be, they have not been distributed equally.

MADRID – In the quarter-century since the publication in 1990 of the first Human Development Report, the world has made astounding strides in reducing poverty and improving the health, education, and living conditions of hundreds of millions of people. And yet, as impressive as these gains may be, they have not been distributed equally. Both between countries and within them, deep disparities in human development remain.

Consider infant mortality. In Iceland, for every 1,000 live births, two children die before their first birthday. In Mozambique, the figure is 120 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. Similarly, in Bolivia, babies born to women with no education are twice as likely to die within a year than babies born to mothers with at least a secondary education. And these disparities continue throughout a person’s life. A five-year-old child born in a low-income household in Central America is, on average, six centimeters shorter than a child born in a high-income household.

Such differences have taken root for a variety of reasons. These include “vertical inequalities,” like skewed income distribution, as well as “horizontal inequalities,” such as those that exist within groups because of factors like race, gender, and ethnicity, and those that form between communities, owing to residential segregation.

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