Human Development in US Cities and Neighborhoods

49 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2021

See all articles by Suraj Sheth

Suraj Sheth

University of Chicago - Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation

Luís M.A. Bettencourt

University of Chicago; Santa Fe Institute

Date Written: November 11, 2021


Human development is a complex process involving interactions between individuals and their socioeconomic, biological and physical environments throughout their life courses. The impact of the environment on an individual’s long-term outcomes remains an area of study for multiple disciplines and for policy. However, no single integrative framework has emerged to conceptualize and measure human development across scales, with approaches based on human capabilities applying internationally and neighborhood effects locally. Here, we bring these two approaches together by localizing the Human Development Index (HDI) in US cities and neighborhoods, creating a large dataset characterizing over 70,000 local communities. We demonstrate how to create a scalable implementation of this index, which allows direct comparison on the same standard of neighborhoods, cities and nations as well as any other intermediate scale. We use this metric to analyze patterns of human development in US cities and neighborhoods. We find a systematic effect of city size associated with higher average human development but also an even clearer trend towards higher inequality across neighborhoods. We show that increases in HDI at the local level are associated with the systematic and simultaneous reduction in magnitude and risk of a large and diverse set of neighborhood effects associated with disadvantage, including measures of health, status, opportunity and poverty. We expect that the convergence of the capabilities approach to human development with studies of neighborhood effects will produce a powerful interdisciplinary synthesis of both theory and practice on a theme of critical societal importance and urgency.

Keywords: communities, sustainability, capabilities, inequality, urbanization

Suggested Citation

Sheth, Suraj and Bettencourt, Luís M.A., Human Development in US Cities and Neighborhoods (November 11, 2021). Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation Research Paper 31, Available at SSRN: or

Suraj Sheth (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation ( email )

5735 S Ellis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Luís M.A. Bettencourt

University of Chicago

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Santa Fe Institute

1399 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States

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