What Is Development?

Development is the process of growing or becoming more advanced. It can refer to physical, mental or emotional growth. It can also mean the act of improving something, like an engineering project or a software application.

The term is often used to describe economic growth, but it can also be applied to other types of progress, such as literacy or the provision of public services. The United Nations identifies three essential aspects of sustainable development: Economic development, social development and environmental protection.

A country’s level of development can be assessed by comparing its gross national income (GNI) to its population. The higher the GNI per capita, the more developed a nation is. Despite having the same average income, however, nations with similar levels of development can still differ widely in their people’s quality of life and in the availability of essential resources.

The field of development science, also known as lifespan development, examines changes and stability across multiple domains, including physical and neurophysiological processes, cognition, language, emotion, personality, morality, and psychosocial functioning. Some theories of development, such as Piaget’s constructivist theory of cognitive development or Erikson’s theory of universal age-graded developmental tasks, presume pathways of change are normative and universal.

Others, such as Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen’s capability approach and Martha Nussbaum’s emphasis on empowerment, suggest that the nature of a person’s development depends on his or her environment. For example, a person’s capacity to negotiate his or her life will be different in a culture with family and friendship groups that offer more choices than a culture with only nuclear families and friends.