Tech & Science dictionary

human infrastructure

[ hyoo-muhn in-fruh-struhk-cher ]

What is human infrastructure?

The term human infrastructure is used to refer to the aspects of the facilities and systems of a place that affect and involve its people. The human infrastructure of a place (such as a country or city) is often understood to involve things like healthcare, childcare, education, and job training.

The term is used in contrast (and in parallel) with infrastructure, which refers to the fundamental facilities and systems of a place, such as transportation, energy, and communication systems. This most often refers to physical things like roads, bridges, pipes, power lines, and buildings, but it can also refer to programs, organizations, and organizational structures.

The term human infrastructure is used in contexts like city planning, economics, and politics.

In 2021, awareness of the term human infrastructure increased after US President Joe Biden used it multiple times when discussing an infrastructure bill being considered by Congress.

Example: The mayor worked to improve the human infrastructure of her city by funding community colleges.

Related words

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Where does human infrastructure come from?

The term human infrastructure has been used since at least the 1970s, gaining use in the 1980s, especially in political discussions of technological modernization, employment, and the labor market.

The word human is used in a similar way in the term human capital (which is distinguished from capital in the same way that human infrastructure is distinguished from infrastructure.)

Hard vs. Soft Infrastructure

In discussions of infrastructure, a distinction is often made between hard infrastructure (referring to physical objects, such as roads, bridges, and buildings) and soft infrastructure (referring to intangible parts of infrastructure, such as systems of government, finance, and education). In practice, the two concepts are typically intertwined. For example, a city needs electrical facilities and systems (hard infrastructure) in order to allow communications and digital commerce (soft infrastructure).

Human infrastructure frequently overlaps with soft infrastructure, and the two terms are often used in the same contexts, such as healthcare and education. However, human infrastructure is commonly used in discussion of things that directly benefit people, such as job training and welfare programs. Soft infrastructure is a broader term that can refer to all kinds of systems and programs.

The term human infrastructure was a topic of news reports and political discussion in 2021 after President Joe Biden used the term when discussing a proposed infrastructure bill. Biden said that the bill was focused on human infrastructure when speaking in support of it.

Examples of human infrastructure

When a working class family can't find quality, affordable childcare, that's human infrastructure. When a senior can't afford dental care, hearing aids, or eyeglasses, that's human infrastructure. Our nation must address the human infrastructure that we have ignored for too long.
@BernieSanders, April 5, 2021
His top priorities would include investing in Michigan’s physical and “human" infrastructure, such as early childhood education, skilled trades and a free two-year college education.
Maureen Feighan and Melissa Nann Burke, The Detroit News, July 31, 2018

Who uses human infrastructure?

The term human infrastructure is used in economic and political discussions.


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This is not meant to be a formal definition of human infrastructure like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of human infrastructure that will help our users expand their word mastery.