(Picture: Alamy)

Urban birdsong, density of washing machine ownership and other eclectic statistics should be combined with traditional economic indicators to produce a truer picture of the wealth of nations, according to leading academics.

A United Nations conference titled 'Beyond GDP' is to discuss calls for the way in which governments measure economic progress.

While measures such as gross domestic product (the annual figure for the goods and services produced by a nation) remain keystones of economic comparison, they fail to reflect social and environmental wealth as well as causes of social tension, according to the experts.

Professor Anantha Duraiappah, of the UN University, which is co-hosting the symposium, said: "New research has begun to show that people often value non-material wealth just as highly, if not more, than monetary wealth.

"Moreover, as countries develop, there are diminishing returns to quality of life from economic output."

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