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In the economic study of the public sector, economic and social development is the process by which the economic well-being and quality of life of a nation, region, local community, or an individual are improved according to targeted goals and objectives.

The term has been used frequently in the 20th and 21st centuries, but the concept has existed in the West for far longer. "Modernization", "Westernization", and especially "industrialization" are other terms often used while discussing economic development.

Whereas economic development is a policy intervention aiming to improve the well-being of people, economic growth is a phenomenon of market productivity and increases in GDP; economist Amartya Sen describes economic growth as but "one aspect of the process of economic development". Economists primarily focus on the growth aspect and the economy at large, whereas researchers of community economic development concern themselves with socioeconomic development as well.

Many institutions of higher education offer economic development as an area of study and research such as McGill University, London School of Economics, International Institute of Social Studies, Balsillie School of International Affairs, and the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.