Development is a process of increasing people’s prosperity and quality of life through economic growth, improved education, health care, and job opportunities. Nations differ widely in their ability to develop, which is measured by their gross national income (GNI) per capita or Human Development Index (HDI).
One of the key features of development that distinguishes it from growth is that improvement in people’s lives is the central focus and measure of success. This is why development is often contrasted with growth, which focuses on the accumulation of wealth, which is not necessarily a sign of increased well-being.
The way that people experience development is influenced by the cultural, social, and historical context in which they live. Many of the theories that have been developed to explain development assume that pathways of change are either normative and universal, assuming everyone passes through the same developmental tasks in a similar sequence, or differential and specific, assuming that there is a wide variety of possible patterns and pathways of development based on specific cultural, social, and historical circumstances.
Some scholars favor maturational meta-theory, which argues that human development is determined by innate or immutable traits, such as aggression, intelligence, personality, and temperament. Other scholars prefer interactionist meta-theories, like contextualist and systems theories, which argue that humans are complex social creatures, who grow and change as a result of the interplay of influences from the outside world, other social actors, and their internal motivations.