Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Ben & Jerry’s Human Development Index

When I travel I love to visit grocery stores.  I think this is an excellent way of determining the cost of living, the local tastes and it’s an interesting opportunity for people watching and seeing how people interact with one another and the level of customer service.

In Africa, the grocery stores were a bit unusual.  If you found something you liked you bought it immediately because you never knew if you would see it again.  I saw lots of unusual products, like eland, kudu and warthog.  And it was always fun to try and explain a product you desired and have the salesperson give up and offer you a condom.

In Italy I remember seeing baby food made from horsemeat.  In India, we drank Thumbs Up! soda.  And in China I tried durian, which kind of looks like a spiky watermelon and smells like feet.  But in the end, after trying whatever exotic and strange food (zebra testicles anyone?) is available I navigate myself towards the ice cream selection.

Each year the United Nations publishes the Human Development Index.  Using three statistical indices: life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling, and per capita income, the UN rates each country in terms of “development.”  Some countries, such as North Korea and Somalia are not rated due to the lack of information.  All other countries are rated from low to medium to high to very high development.  Most western countries (Australia, the US, Germany, etc.) are considered very high, while most of Africa is lowBotswana, South Africa and Namibia are medium.

While the UN Human Development Index is all well and good, I prefer my method of measuring human development: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Obviously, in countries where Ben & Jerry’s is absent, there is low (or maybe medium) development.  Countries which sell Ben & Jerry’s are naturally high or very highly developed.

However, I take my analysis one step further.  I like to examine the price point of Ben & Jerry’s to determine the cost of living.  In the U.S. the price of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s is roughly $4.  Four years ago, when I took my students to Switzerland, a pint was €11.90, which is about US$13.
Here in Australia, we are looking at AUD$12.50, which is equivalent to US$9.15:
In conclusion, according to the Ben & Jerry’s Human Development Index, the U.S., Australia and Switzerland are all very highly developed since they all sell Ben & Jerry’s.  However, it is evident that the cost of living is higher in Australia, and still higher in Switzerland, than the U.S. as demonstrated by Ben & Jerry’s being more than twice as expensive in Australia and more than three times as expensive in Switzerland than in the U.S.

My academic superhero is Hans Rosling, a Swedish academic who conducts research on human development statistics.  I am going to tell him about my Ben & Jerry’s Human Development Index and see what he thinks.  Maybe my 1,000 citations are right around the corner!


  1. I conclude that if you want to lose an excessive amount of weight, move to Australia, because it sounds like you won't be able to afford any of your bad eating habits.
    Where do I sign up?:)!

    1. Yes and no. All food here is expensive regardless of whether it is vegetables or candy. But processed food is particularly expensive because it is shipped from so far away. For instance, a can of soda (a smaller can than in the US) costs $3. The good thing is that food waste doesn't occur because people won't do it due to the high cost.