The 2014 Social Progress Index reveals striking differences across countries in their social performance, highlights the very different strengths and weaknesses of individual countries, and provides concrete guidance for national policy agendas.
The Index is the sum of three dimensions: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. Each dimension is made up of four equally weighted individual components scored on an objective scale from 0–100. This scale is determined by identifying the best and worst global performance on each indicator by any country in the last 10 years, and using these to set the maximum (100) and minimum (0) bounds. Thus Social Progress Index scores are realistic benchmarks rather than abstract measures. The scaling allows us to track absolute, not just relative, country performance.
Social progress is distinct from economic development, though correlated with it.
Some countries with low GDP per capita are able to achieve surprising levels of social progress, while some relatively prosperous nations register levels of social progress lower than less wealthy countries. Explicitly distinguishing social progress from economic development allows us to gain deeper insight into each one.
Some aspects of social progress are more closely related to the level of economic development than others.
There is no single measure that captures all aspects of social progress.
Each dimension is distinct from the others, and each component within each dimension is also distinct.
Countries have relative strengths and weaknesses in social progress, both across dimensions and across components within dimensions. These strengths and weaknesses set the social progress agenda for each country.
The top three countries are New Zealand , Switzerland, and Iceland and have closely grouped scores of 88.24, 88.19, and 88.07 respectively. These three countries, which are relatively small in terms of populations, score strongly across all dimensions, though there are important variations in their areas of relative strength.
New Zealand, for example, ranks first on Opportunity (with a score of 88.01) but ranks 6th in terms of Foundations of Wellbeing (and a score of 84.97); on Basic Human Needs, New Zealand registers a high absolute score of 91.74 but this measure is only 18th in terms of overall ranking. As discussed in more detail below, many advanced economies have very strong Basic Human Needs scores (with more than 20 countries scoring over 90). There is far more dispersion among leading nations in terms of Foundations of Wellbeing and particularly Opportunity.
Switzerland ranks first on Foundations of Wellbeing (89.78) and 2nd on Basic Human Needs (94.87). Switzerland ranks only 12th in terms of Opportunity (with a score below 80). This weaker performance is the result of lower scores in the Tolerance and Inclusion component (74.25) and especially Access to Advanced Education (with a score of 64.30).
Iceland, rounding out the top three, registers a more balanced portfolio across the Index: while it does not lead the rankings on any individual dimension, Iceland places within the top 10 on each dimension. Similar to Switzerland, its weakest performance is Access to Advanced Education within the Opportunity dimension, with a score of 62.84.
The remainder of the top ten includes a group of Northern European nations (Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark), Canada and Australia. These countries are closely bunched, with scores of between 86 and 88. They represent a reasonably distinct “top tier” of countries in terms of measured social progress. There is clear variation among the countries in terms of strengths and weaknesses: Denmark registers the top overall score for Basic Human Needs but has a relatively weaker score for Opportunity. Australia scores strongly on Opportunity but is weaker in Foundations of Wellbeing.
The rest of the top ten includes a number of larger nations, including the Netherlands, Canada (the highest ranking member of the G-7) and Australia. It is useful to note that every Nordic country is represented in the top 10 of the 2014 Social Progress Index.
Overall, the findings from the top 10 reveal that even the strongest countries in terms of social progress have unfinished agendas and areas for improvement. This reflects our guiding principle that, properly understood, the need to measure social progress applies to all countries, not just those that are less developed.
A group of 13 countries, ranging from Austria with a score of 85.11 to the Czech Republic with a score of 80.41, represent the next tier of countries in terms of social progress. This group includes a number of the world’s leading economies in terms of GDP and population, including five members of the G-7: Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, and France. Generalizations about countries’ level of overall development mask striking social and environmental challenges and strengths:
The differences between these leading nations are revealing. Whereas Japan’s strength is in the area of Basic Human Needs (94.72), both Foundations of Wellbeing as well as Opportunity are below 80. Japan scores particularly low in terms of Tolerance and Inclusion (61.32). In contrast, the United States scores below 90 in terms of Basic Human Needs (23rd), but demonstrates strength in Opportunity (5th). This result is heavily influenced by US leadership in Access to Advanced Education, where it ranks 1st by a considerable margin.
Germany (12th) and the United Kingdom (13th) have similar overall levels of social progress. However, Germany’s rank is underpinned by its scores in Basic Human Needs and Foundations of Wellbeing, while the United Kingdom performs best in the Opportunity dimension.
These striking contrasts in areas of strength reflect not only cultural differences but also policy and investment choices. Countries such as Germany and Japan (and also EU countries such as France and Belgium) have broad safety nets. However, they register declining absolute scores when moving from Basic Human Needs, to Foundations of Wellbeing, to Opportunity. In contrast, both the United States and United Kingdom have tended to make policy choices and social commitments with a philosophy of greater individualism. They perform better on the Opportunity dimension than on Foundations of Wellbeing.
A third tier of countries, ranging from Slovakia at 78.93 to Israel at 71.40, includes a diverse group of nations that have achieved significant (though not world-leading) levels of social progress. This tier includes countries at sharply different levels of economic development, ranging from Costa Rica (which significantly out-performs its rank in terms of GDP) to United Arab Emirates (which has one of the highest measured GDPs per capita in the world but is ranked 37th in terms of SPI). Clearly high GDP per capita does not guarantee social progress.
Italy is a major outlier in this third group, ranking well behind its peers in the European Union. It is the only nation from the G-7 outside the top 25, ranking at 29th with an overall score of 76.93. Italy scores poorly on Basic Human Needs (30th), with a particularly low score on Personal Safety (67.83, 49th). Italy’s scores on Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity are somewhat better and it demonstrates relative strength in the area of Health and Wellness, where it ranks 2nd. Overall, however, Italy shows weakness on Access to Information and Communication (42nd), Ecosystem Sustainability (54th) and Personal Freedom and Choice (61st).
Some countries in the third tier, such as Costa Rica, have a relatively balanced social progress profile (with scores on each dimension ranging from 70 to 83). Other countries show far more uneven performance: Uruguay, for example, registers a distinctly low score in Foundations of Wellbeing (72.18), driven in part by an extremely poor performance in terms of Ecosystem Sustainability.
The next tier of countries in terms of social progress is a large group of approximately 50 countries ranging from Kuwait at 40th (with a score of 70.66) to Morocco at 91st (with a score of 58.01). These countries are closely bunched in terms of their overall Social Progress Index score, but they have widely differing strengths and weaknesses which lead to diverse social progress agendas.
Some countries have significant weakness in the area of Basic Human Needs, including Latin American countries such as Peru and Colombia as well as relatively prosperous African nations such as South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Other countries have weaknesses that are more concentrated in Foundations of Wellbeing or Opportunity. Ukraine, for example, has major weakness in terms of Foundations of Wellbeing, while Malaysia and Belarus have the greatest weakness in terms of Opportunity.
Four of the five BRICS countries are part of the fourth tier, including Brazil at 46th (with a score of 69.97), South Africa at 69th (with a score of 62.96), Russia at 80th (with a score of 60.79), and China at 90th (with a score of 58.67). India ranks outside the top 100 countries in social progress with a score just over 50.
Latin American countries are also well represented in the fourth tier. Argentina is 42nd, Brazil is 46th, and Colombia, Mexico and Peru come in 52nd and 54th, and 55th place, respectively. The fourth tier also includes the Arab countries of North Africa that register relatively tight range of scores, ranging from Tunisia (69th, 62.96) to Morocco (91st, 58.01).
The fifth tier of countries, ranging from Uzbekistan (92st, 57.34) to Pakistan (124th, 42.40), represents a material step down in social progress from the fourth. Many of these countries also have low GDP per capita, some (including Iran) have much higher rankings in terms of GDP per capita. Iran’s social progress score is sharply reduced due to its poor performance (33.82) on the Opportunity dimension.
India ranks 102nd on social progress with challenges across all three dimensions with particularly low scores on Shelter (39.77) in the Basic Human Needs dimension, Access to Information (39.87) in the Foundations of Wellbeing dimension, and Tolerance and Inclusion (21.54) in the Opportunity dimension.
Three Central Asian countries that were part of the former Soviet Union – Uzbekistan (92nd), Kyrgyzstan (93rd), and Tajikistan (95th) also fall into this group. The other Central Asian country, Kazakhstan, has achieved the fourth tier (86th).
A group of eight countries registers the lowest levels of social progress, from Yemen (125th) to Chad (132nd). The Social Progress Index provides evidence that extreme poverty and poor social performance go hand-in-hand. However, this group also demonstrates that economic development does not guarantee social progress. For example, Chad (132nd) with a GDP per capita of $1,870 ranks well below Malawi (109th), a country with GDP per capita of just $660. Angola is an even starker illustration, ranking 127th on social progress even though its GDP per capita $5,262.
Further insight is gained by examining regional and other common groupings of countries. Figure 2.1 charts average Social Progress Index scores for eight broad regional groupings. Europe, North America, and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) are the best performing regions on overall social progress. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia, are the worst performing regions. It is illuminating to highlight some of the similarities among regions as well as some important sources of regional heterogeneity.
Figure 2.1 Social Progress Index and dimension score distribution and averages, by region (click image to open in new window)
Oceania (New Zealand and Australia) is the single highest performing region in terms of social progress with New Zealand ranked first and Australia ranked 10th. Both Australia and New Zealand score over 90 on Basic Human Needs. New Zealand outpaces Australia by several points on both Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity.
Both the United States and Canada place within the top 20 on the Social Progress Index, with strength in Basic Human Needs and Opportunity tempered by some weakness in Foundations of Wellbeing. However, Canada outranks the United States by a considerable margin (7th vs. 16th), with a more than 3 point advantage in all three dimensions. The U.S. registers similar social progress versus peers despite higher GDP per capita.
The highest-performing area within Europe includes the Nordic countries, Switzerland, Germany, the UK and Ireland. These Northern European countries excel based on strengths in Basic Human Needs (where Denmark is first in the world with a score of 95.73) and Opportunity (particularly in Ireland and the UK). Northern European countries tend to perform less strongly in terms of Foundations of Wellbeing.
Continental Western Europe also performs strongly on the Index, with France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal performing at roughly similar levels both in aggregate and by dimension: high scores on Basic Human Needs (over 90) counterbalanced by weakness in Foundation of Wellbeing and Opportunity. As noted earlier, Italy is a regional outlier: it’s Social Progress Index score is more than 3 points below any of its peers and more than 10 points below its neighbor Switzerland.
Eastern Europe offers a nuanced picture. A group of Central European countries including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, as well as most of the Baltic countries, rank high at near Western Europe levels. In contrast, most of the other former Soviet republics are at a much lower level: Armenia, Ukraine, and Georgia are all grouped between the 60th – 70th ranking (with overall scores in the mid-60s), and Russia is even lower with a score of 60.79.
The top performing countries in Latin America on the Social Progress Index are Costa Rica (25th), Uruguay (26th), and Chile (30th). These countries are ranked substantially higher on the Social Progress Index than GDP per capita (Costa Rica ranks 54th on GDP, Uruguay 43rd, and Chile 37th). For the region as a whole, Basic Human Needs is ranked above the other two dimensions. While each Latin American country has its own strengths and weaknesses, it is interesting to note that Latin American countries as a group tend to have relatively balanced social progress portfolios compared to other regions. However, a common characteristic of many Latin American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, is low scores on Personal Safety. Cuba ranks 79th on the Social Progress Index and exceeds many higher-ranked Latin American countries on Basic Human Needs, but lags significantly on the Opportunity dimension with especially an low score on Personal Rights (2.40).
The East Asia & Pacific region displays an especially wide variation in social progress, ranging from 84.21 for Japan (14th) to 51.89 for Cambodia (100th). East Asia is weak on Personal Safety (averaging just 63.25) and its average for this dimension is lower than that of the Middle East and North Africa. Access to Basic Knowledge is a particular strength. The region’s worst performing dimension is Opportunity. At least in part, this reflects a wide diversity of political and civil governance models in the region, shown in striking differences across countries in areas such as Personal Freedom and Choice as well as Tolerance and Inclusion.
The Middle East & North Africa region includes both oil-rich countries and conflict-affected countries. The top performers in social progress are the United Arab Emirates (72.92, 37th), Israel (71.40, 39th) and Kuwait (70.66, 40th), which outperform the next strongest countries by more than 6 points. The lowest scores are for Yemen (40.23, 125th) and Iraq (44.84, 118th). The region performs best on Basic Human Needs and ranks better than Latin America. The Opportunity dimension is by far the lowest scoring dimension for the MENA region, ranked last among regions. The ‘Arab Spring’ countries of North Africa all score lowest on the Opportunity dimension (Tunisia 44.39, Morocco 39.60, Algeria 36.90, and Egypt 34.17). On Personal Rights, Tunisia (51.02, 75th) and Israel (48.17, 82nd) score high, while Iran (5.82, 130th), Saudi Arabia (9.60, 129th) and Yemen (15.79, 124th) rank near the bottom.
Central and South Asia trails all regions but Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of overall Index performance. There is a large divergence between South Asia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The top performers for the region are Sri Lanka (59.71, 85th), Kazakhstan (59.47, 86th), and Mongolia (58.97, 89th). The worst performance belongs to Pakistan at just 42.40 points (124th). The region scores similarly on the Basic Human Needs dimension (averaging 62.10) and Foundations of Wellbeing (58.46) with significant differences across countries and among components. The four former Soviet countries in Central Asia all perform worst on the Foundations of Wellbeing dimension, sharing particular weakness in Ecosystem Sustainability. Similar to (but just outperforming) the MENA region, the average score for Opportunity is low, with an average of 42.91. The most challenging component in terms of average score is Access to Advanced Education (34.19), although particular problems exist also in Personal Rights (Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka) and Tolerance and Inclusion (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh).
Sub-Saharan Africa scores the lowest of all the regions on average Social Progress Index score. It ranks lowest on Basic Human Needs and Foundations of Wellbeing. However, Sub-Saharan Africa scores slightly better than the Middle East & North Africa region on Opportunity. The top performing Sub-Saharan African countries are Mauritius (73.68, 34th), Botswana (65.60, 57th), and South Africa (62.96, 69th). Chad (32.60, 132nd) and the Central African Republic (34.17, 131st) register the lowest scores. There is great disparity on Basic Human Needs, from a low of 25.94 for Chad (132nd) to a high of 86.39 for Mauritius (31st). The most challenging component within this dimension is Shelter, averaging only 31.62 across the region, with five countries scoring under 15 points. Nutrition and Basic Medical Care is the top performing component, averaging 61.43. With Foundations of Wellbeing the average score is 55.78 On the region’s most challenging component being Access to Information and Communications, averaging 42.34, due to a of low percentage of internet users. Sub-Saharan Africa’s lowest scores are in the Opportunity dimension. The region’s most challenging component is Access to Advanced Education, averaging 17.67, where South Africa (40.66, 71st) and Mauritius (35.24, 80th) stand out in the region.
The BRICS countries are not a regional group, but are often viewed as an important country group. The BRICS are generally seen as areas of great economic growth potential, but social progress performance is mixed at best. Only Brazil (46th) ranks better on social progress than it does on GDP per capita (57th). Russia has a higher GDP than Brazil (39th) yet ranks lower on the Social Progress Index (80th); South Africa is 58th on GDP and 69th on social progress; China is 69th on GDP and 90th on social progress; and, India is 94th on GDP and 102nd on social progress.
Among the BRICS countries, Brazil records the strongest and most “balanced” social progress profile. It exhibits some weakness in Basic Human Needs (driven by a very low score of 37.50 for Personal Safety), but has consistently good performance across all components of both Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity, except Access to Advanced Education (38.09, 76th). South Africa scores particularly well on Opportunity (61.19, 40th), but ranks poorly on Foundations of Wellbeing (67.49, 71st), and even lower on Basic Human Needs (60.20 94th). Personal Safety ranks lower for South Africa (30.90, 128th) than Brazil.
Russia and China perform best in the area of Basic Human Needs (both with scores ahead of Brazil in that dimension), but worse in Foundations of Wellbeing and particularly Opportunity. Russia, in common with several other former Soviet republics, has an extremely low Health and Wellness ranking (51.99, 130th). On Opportunity, Russia also ranks low due especially to Personal Rights (19.77, 122nd) and Tolerance and Inclusion (33.96, 115th). China is among the lowest countries in the world in terms of Personal Rights (4.80, 131st). India, the lowest ranked of the BRICS, shows a similar level of performance across dimensions and components, with the exception of weakness in Tolerance and Inclusion (21.54, 131st).
A central objective of the Social Progress Index is to better understand the relationship between social progress and economic development. The Social Progress Index allows analysis of those areas of social progress that are more or less correlated with traditional economic success measures. Overall, the Social Progress Index allows us to evaluate the effectiveness with which a country’s economic success is turned into social progress, and vice versa.
1. Economic development alone is not sufficient to explain social progress outcomes. GDP per capita is an incomplete measure of a country’s overall performance.
The Social Progress Index has a broad positive correlation with economic performance (0.85), measured by GDP per capita (see Figure 2.3). Countries with higher income tend to have higher social progress: New Zealand with ($25,857 GDP per capita) ranks highest on social progress while Chad with ($1,870 GDP per capita) ranks lowest.
Figure 2.3 Social Progress Index vs GDP per capita (click to open in new window)
However, the data clearly demonstrates that economic performance alone does not fully explain social progress, in three ways:
a) There is a nonlinear relationship between Social Progress Index scores and GDP per capita. The relationship between economic development and social progress changes as income rises. At lower income levels, small differences in GDP are associated with large differences in social progress. As countries reach high levels of income, our findings suggest that the easy gains in social progress arising from economic development become exhausted, while economic growth brings new social and environmental challenges.
b) Tracking social progress trends over time will be important for understanding the speed with which social progress responds to changes in economic performance. It remains to be seen how quickly fast-growing economies such as India and China, that currently underperform on social progress relative to their GDP per capita, can turn economic success into improving social conditions.
c) Social Progress Index scores display significant deviations from the GDP per capita trend line. New Zealand, for example, is the top-ranked country on social progress, but ranks only 25th in GDP per capita. New Zealand’s GDP per capita is only half that of the wealthiest country in the sample, Norway, whose score on social progress is lower. Similarly, Chad is the lowest ranked country on social progress but it is far from the poorest country (it ranks 109th on GDP per capita). By comparison, Liberia has a GDP per capita one third of Chad’s ($560) but has a higher level of social progress.
In general, resource-rich countries are more likely to under-perform on social progress relative to their GDP per capita. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Angola are all significant under-performers (see Table 2.2). Yet resource endowments alone do not come close to explaining all the differences. We also see divergent performance on social progress, strong and weak, at all levels of economic development.
Table 2.2 Social Progress Index overperformers and underperformers (click to open in new window).
Using the World Bank’s classification of high income countries, Uruguay (77.51) achieves meaningfully higher social progress than Russia (60.79); in the upper middle income group, Jamaica (70.39) performs much better than China (58.67); in the lower middle income group, Ghana (55.96) performs better than Nigeria (42.65); in the low income group, Malawi (48.79) performs better than Togo (42.80).
Countries can have similar levels of social progress at widely diverging levels of GDP per capita. Costa Rica, an upper middle-income country (GDP per capita of $11,165), has achieved a level of social progress, that is close to that of far richer countries such as Italy and Spain. Clearly factors beyond economic development are essential to social progress.
2. Some aspects of social progress are more highly correlated with GDP than others. This is a complex relationship where causation may go in both directions.
Better understanding of the relationship between economic development and social progress comes from exploring how the relationship varies by dimension and component. Though each dimension of social progress shows a rising average score from low to high income, we see very different patterns for each dimension (see Figures 2.4 and 2.5).
Figure 2.4 Social Progress Index and dimension score distribution and averages, by income group (click to open in new window)
Figure 2.5 3 dimensions vs GDP per Capita (click to open in new window)
Basic Human Needs improves rapidly with GDP per capita at relatively low levels of income but then progress flattens out as income continues to rise. Foundations of Wellbeing has a more linear relationship with GDP per capita, showing considerable variability across all levels of income. The Opportunity dimension has a flatter and more variable relationship with GDP per capita. While Basic Human Needs improvement is the closest to “automatic”, each dimension of social progress is not explained entirely by traditional measures of economic development. Disaggregating the relationship between economic development and social progress by dimension and component promises to yield novel insights into the nature of inclusive development.
Once countries reach the upper middle to high income level, it appears that there are sufficient resources to meet most Basic Human Needs. However, countries can achieve high income status without achieving high levels of Opportunity for their populations. Basic Human Needs has the strongest correlation with GDP per capita (0.92), rising the most sharply with income at lower levels and continuing to rise, albeit more slowly, even at high income levels. For low income countries, however, we find that countries of similar income show widely different performance on Basic Human Needs. This suggests that where resources are most limited, how well a country uses those resources can have a very big impact on how well a country meets its population’s Basic Human Needs.
Within Basic Human Needs, Nutrition and Basic Medical Care is an area where high income countries score extremely high, all above 90 points. It is notable that, on average, upper middle income countries score very high as well, but with a far wider range. In general, the wide spread of scores for low income through to upper middle income countries suggests that, despite a good correlation between rising GDP per capita and rising scores on Nutrition and Basic Medical Care, factors other than the level of economic development significantly affect outcomes.
The Water and Sanitation component is the only component of Basic Human Needs where a perfect 100 points score is achieved, by eleven countries. However, Water and Sanitation remains a major problem in many countries, particularly Niger (4.75), Congo (10.00), Togo (11.33), Madagascar (16.07), and Mozambique (17.36). Though average scores for this component increase steadily with GDP there is a wide range of scores for countries below high income levels. The range of scores for lower-middle income countries is particularly wide. This suggests that countries have assigned very different priority to the infrastructure investments required to deliver effective access to Water and Sanitation.
The Shelter component shows the lowest average score of Basic Human Needs. In thirty poorer countries, less than half of the population has access to electricity and adequately ventilated dwellings with basic cooking facilities, resulting in many deaths from indoor air pollution. The Shelter indicators are well correlated with GDP per capita as economic growth supports better infrastructure. However, the availability of affordable housing has little correlation with GDP. Wealthy countries like Japan and Denmark score relatively high, but so do Thailand, Uzbekistan and China.
The Personal Safety component shows considerable variation in scores for all GDP per capita groups, and a relatively weak correlation with GDP. Unlike the other components, there is a steep improvement in the average score from upper middle to high income countries (nearly 25 points higher), albeit with wide variation. It is unclear from our data whether personal security enables economic growth, or economic growth produces the necessary resources to provide security.
Foundations of Wellbeing rises less sharply with rising GDP per capita than the other two dimensions (the average Foundations of Wellbeing score for rich countries is just one and a half times that of low income countries, compared to the average Basic Human Needs score which is more than double). Foundations of Wellbeing notably begins to level out at relatively low levels of GDP and increases only marginally for high income countries. This lower rate of increase in Foundations of Wellbeing scores with rising income may be due to the fact that economic progress leads to new challenges, such as obesity and environmental degradation, as well as benefits.
The Access to Basic Knowledge component of Foundations of Wellbeing has a high average score of 83.62, and all but eight countries score over 50. It is notable that one low income country, Kyrgyzstan, scores over 90 on this component. Such high scores suggest that great progress has been made globally in improving literacy and school enrollment over the last decade in part as a result of the focus provided by the Millennium Development Goals.
The Access to Information and Communications component has the highest correlation with GDP of the components (0.82) of Foundations of Wellbeing. This is largely driven by the fact that access to mobile telephones and the internet respond to consumer purchasing power. Press freedom, on the other hand, is much less correlated with GDP.
The Health and Wellness component has the lowest maximum score (Japan, 83.26) and highest minimum score (Kazakhstan, 49.93) across all dimensions, and shows little improvement with rising GDP. This reflects the fact that some indicators, such as life expectancy, tend to get better as countries develop and some, such as obesity, tend to get worse. Given the speed at which countries are moving from health challenges of under-nourishment to ones of obesity, which has a double burden in terms of mortality and morbidity, we may over time see some countries decline on Health and Wellness even as their GDP rises.
The Ecosystem Sustainability component is the least correlated to GDP. Average scores show a U shape: scores for lower- and upper-middle income countries are lower on Ecosystem Sustainability than both low income and high income countries, and middle income countries also show the largest variation in scores. This suggests that the middle stages of growth and economic development are strongly associated with deterioration of the environment, and the speed at which countries begin to address these problems as incomes rise.
Opportunity is the least correlated dimension of social progress with GDP per capita (0.77), which is perhaps unsurprising since many aspects of Opportunity, covering rights and freedoms, do not necessarily require large resource investments. However, for low-income countries, the narrow range of scores we observe suggests that possibilities on Opportunity are constrained. Whether that is a consequence, or a cause, is unclear from a single year snapshot. At the middle-income country level, the range of possibilities in greater Opportunity begins to widen, with countries over-and under-achieving significantly. Opportunity also rises faster with GDP per capita for high income countries than Foundations of Wellbeing.
The Personal Rights component of Opportunity has the greatest range in scores within the entire Index, ranging from New Zealand (98.80) to Cuba (2.40). The lowest scores on Personal Rights are the lowest of any component in the Index. Average Personal Rights scores show little increase from low income through to upper-middle income countries, suggesting that Personal Rights are more affected by policy choices than simply resources.
The Personal Freedom and Choice component shows a steady increase as GDP increases. However, Mauritania, a lower-middle income country, is the worst performer by a considerable margin with a score of 17.62 points. Leaving aside this outlier, the range of scores at each level of income is surprisingly narrow for a component that is not obviously causally related to countries’ level of economic performance.
The Tolerance and Inclusion component shows little variation within of low, lower-middle, and upper-middle income groups, but a large jump in average scores at the high income level. The direction of causation in this relationship will require further investigation.
The Access to Advanced Education component has the biggest outlier in terms of absolute performance: the United States’ score of 89.37 is seven points above second place Canada and nearly twelve points above third place Japan. There is a wide range of scores on this component and, unsurprisingly, it is highly correlated with GDP (0.80). The very low scores of less economically developed countries may reflect the fact that higher education has not been a priority of development assistance in recent decades.
By documenting the relationships between the different dimensions and components of social progress and economic performance, the 2014 Social Progress Index begins to shed light on the current debates about ‘inclusive growth’ and ‘shared prosperity.’ As we have seen, the Social Progress Index data demonstrates that economic development alone is an incomplete model for a society’s development.
Though our analysis based on this first Index cannot establish the causal linkage between economic and social performance, our results are highly suggestive that some elements of social performance that play an important role in enabling economic performance. Also it is clear that improving social performance is not guaranteed by economic growth and requires its own distinct policy agenda.
The Social Progress Index offers a new tool with which to further explore the complex, two-way relationship between economic and social performance. We suspect that economic progress and social progress reinforce each other. That is, social progress may be not just a consequence of economic progress (because a country has more resources to invest in education, healthcare, etc.) but also a cause of economic progress because it fosters capability and opportunity to progress efficiency and foster entrepreneurship. Understanding the mutual interdependence between economic and social performance is an important agenda for our work going forward.
The 2014 Social Progress Index results are a starting point for many avenues of research into the ways in which country success improves or declines, and the relationships among social progress, economic growth, and life satisfaction. Expanding the Social Progress Index to the subnational (state, provincial) level will also provide important insight. The Social Progress Index gives a view into how a country performs on average, but there are state by state differences. These sub-national patterns are especially crucial for geographically large nations. Our agenda is to expand the framework to the sub-national level.
1. We will continue to improve the Index through ongoing testing, refining the methodology and adding new data as it comes available. The 2014 version of the Social Progress Index is much improved versus the 2013 ‘beta’ version through generous feedback from many observers. This year, like last, we invite others to use our data, test it, and help us make it better.
2. The Social Progress Index is based on the best globally comparable data available on social and environmental outcomes. We set stringent standards for data to be included in the Index (see the Methodological Report for further details). Better data on social and environmental performance is a global public good that requires sustained investment from governments and other actors. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals have been an important catalyst for better data collection on extreme poverty. Private initiatives such as the Global Peace Index published by the Institute for Economics and Peace and the Global Slavery Index from the Walk Free Foundation, are making important contributions to improving understanding of important social issues. Better data coverage will allow us to add more countries to the Index and better quality of data would further enhance the rigor of the findings. We have identified a number of important areas where better data could enhance the measurement of social progress:
• Quality and affordability of housing
• Violence against women
• Quality of education
• Access to radio, television and newspapers
• Quality of life and rights for the disabled
• Treatment for mental health
• Property rights for minorities and women
• Ease and affordability of internal mobility
• Quality of social relations and networks
3. So far we have focused on measuring social outcomes. However, an important next step in advancing social progress is to understand the relationship between policies and investments (inputs) and social outcomes. Preliminary research shows little correlation between government expenditures as a percentage of overall GDP and Social Progress Index scores (see Figure 2.14). This suggests that there is no automatic improvement in social progress with greater government spending. Other factors, ranging from government effectiveness, to country legacy, to social or cultural issues, may well be equally or more important. Future research will examine the quantity and composition of government expenditure and measure government effectiveness in delivering outcomes. In addition to expenditures, we aim to identify policy lessons from successful countries that can be adopted by others to drive social progress.
Figure 2.14 Social Progress Index vs Government Expenditure as a percentage of GDP (click to open in new window)
4. There is a crucial need for ongoing research on the relationship between the Social Progress Index, GDP, and happiness and subjective wellbeing (often measured by the level of life satisfaction in a country). The Social Progress Index framework synthesizes the indicators which enable individuals within a society to flourish, measuring the conditions that allow for life satisfaction at a broad societal level. SPI scores are highly correlated with scores of life satisfaction within a country, measured by the pooled average for each country from 2009 to 2013. Our preliminary research (see Figure 2.15) has found that, controlling for GDP, there is a highly positive and significant relationship between life satisfaction and social progress and, in particular, the Opportunity dimension. Over the next year, we will delve further into these relationships and explore the use of other indicators of subjective wellbeing and happiness.
Figure 2.15 Life Satisfaction vs Social Progress Index (click to open in new window)
The Social Progress Index is a rich tool that can shed light on crucial questions for government, business, and civil society. We will update the Social Progress Index on an annual basis, providing time-series data to shed light on the causal relationships the components of the Index and between social progress and economic development. All our data and findings are publicly available free of charge. We are committed to the ongoing refinement and adaptation of this tool, to joining with others to work for better data on social and environmental issues, and to translate the Social Progress Index into action in concert with stakeholders across all countries. Our ultimate aim is to accelerate the social progress agenda in countries across the world.