CEO Michael Green on the 2017 Social Progress Index

Image: Michael Green, CEO Social Progress Imperative | Photo Credit: Anton Brink


The world is making progress but we are struggling to ensure the rights of freedom and tolerance for all.

At times it seems that the world is going backwards in terms of social progress and that our efforts are not making a dent in addressing our world’s most complex problems. Fortunately, new data from the global Social Progress Index brings the welcome news that, on average, the lives of the people of the world are getting better.

The Social Progress Index is a comprehensive measure of societal performance based entirely on social and environmental outcome indicators. It is a holistic measure of the quality of life of 98% of the world’s population. Looking at trends since the Index was launched in 2014, the 2017 report shows that there has been a small but significant increase in world social progress over that period from 63.19 to 64.85 (on a scale of 0-100). Moreover, the majority of countries – 113 out of 128 – have shown improvement.

Many of the biggest gainers were developing countries such as Nigeria and Nepal, where progress is most needed. Developed countries such as Norway, Spain and Japan also posted significant improvements. The biggest gains in world social progress in these years have come through improvements in access to information, through the spread of mobile phones and the internet, and through wider access to top-quality higher education.

More worryingly, we see little or no progress for the world in areas such as personal safety and tolerance and inclusion, and the world has gone backwards in this period on personal rights. It is deterioration in these factors that caused some of the biggest falls in social progress, notably in Hungary and Nicaragua.

Denmark topped the ranking this year. Indeed, the Nordic countries all made it into the premier league of countries with very high social progress. But they don’t have a monopoly. Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and the UK also made it into this top category.

Nor is Denmark, as the top ranked country a social progress paradise. The Index highlights areas where Denmark could and should be doing better, such as on life expectancy, the number of boys dropping out of school and religious tolerance.

Of the G7 countries, Canada comes out on top on social progress, with the UK second. But both countries have made no gains since 2014, although prospects for the UK with ongoing austerity and Brexit look more challenging. Germany joins Canada and the UK in the very high social progress category for the first time, thanks to a jump in performance on tolerance and inclusion over the past three years. Japan has also posted significant gains since 2014 although is still in the second tier (high social progress).

The news for the remaining members of the G7 is less good. Italy is the last placed member of the G7 on social progress (24th in the world) but it is also the poorest. France comes in a disappointing 19th in the world. The US, the richest member of the G7 in terms of GDP per capita, is seriously underperforming to come in 18th in the world on social progress. Lack of safety, school dropouts, and low life expectancy are part of the story but so too is a slump in performance on tolerance and inclusion since 2014.

Moving beyond the rankings, the Social Progress Index shows where each country is strongest and weakest, compared to countries of similar wealth. For even the best performing country in the world, Denmark, challenges remain around the number of boys dropping out of high school as well as life expectancy. By offering a rigorous and comprehensive assessment of country performance, the Social Progress Index can help countries to focus their resources on the biggest challenges, build collaborations, and, hopefully, have the biggest impact possible on citizens’ real quality of life.

Michael Green
CEO, Social Progress Imperative

Explore the 2017 Social Progress Index.