Please help us improve our impact. Take our 5-minute survey ( Español , Português)


Economic development is necessary but not sufficient for social progress. A country’s overall level of development masks social and environmental strengths and challenges. At a disaggregated level, the social progress index shows areas of underperformance and success for countries at all income levels. Read our full report.

The 2015 Social Progress Index includes 133 countries covering 94% of the world’s population, plus 28 countries with partial data. This brings coverage to a total of 99% of the world’s population. This year’s Social Progress Index again reveals striking differences across countries in their overall social performance, and across different components of social progress. This chapter provides an overview of the key findings, from two perspectives:

• The global perspective and how the world as a whole performs on different components of social progress.
• Performance by country.

Social Progress Globally

The Social Progress Index score is an average across 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 to 100. Higher scores mean higher social progress, and lower the reverse. The scale is determined by identifying the best and worst actual global performance on each indicator by any country since 2004, and using these levels to set the maximum (100) and minimum (0) bounds. Thus, the scaling of Social Progress Index scores allows the tracking of absolute performance that can be compared across peers, rather than using abstract, relative measures.

By creating an average of all country scores weighted by population, we can create a tangible measure of the world’s total level of social progress and which aspects of social progress are most and least advanced.

If the world were a country, it would score 64.39 in Social Progress based on a simple average of countries and 61.00 on a population-weighted basis. These averages are the equivalent to countries such as Guatemala and Kazakhstan.

On a population-weighted basis, we see important global differences across the various aspects of social progress (see Figure 2.1). While the world scores 68.33 in Basic Human Needs and 66.45 on the Foundations of Wellbeing dimension, Opportunity scores just 48.23. Creating opportunity remains a goal that many nations fail to achieve. Simple average global scores tell the same story. The world remains best at meeting Basic Human Needs and creating the Foundations of Wellbeing (70.82 and 67.68). There is a significant drop in the Opportunity score (52.03), despite the fact that developing countries have a smaller weight under this approach. This shows the challenges all countries face in this dimension.

Examining the components of social progress on a global basis in more detail yields further insight into areas of progress as well as challenges.

• Basic Human Needs: Average world performance is best on Nutrition and Basic Medical Care (87.47) and Water and Sanitation (68.57). This reflects important progress in global development in areas that have been the focus of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The last two and a half decades have seen child mortality fall by 49% and access to safe drinking water increase from 76% to 89%. Shelter, not addressed in the Millennium Development Goals, scores 60.99. The worst performing component is Personal Safety (56.27), also not a Millennium Development Goal.

• Foundations of Wellbeing: Average world performance is best on Access to Basic Knowledge (85.98), an area of focus for the Millennium Development Goals. Primary school enrolment has increased 11 percentage points since 1990 . Access to Information and Communications (63.56) and Health and Wellness (64.67) have lower but similar scores. Access to Information and Communications will probably continue to rise with the continued spread of mobile telecommunications. While Health and Wellness has an uneven relationship with economic development and rising wealth (see below). The worst performing component of this dimension is Ecosystem Sustainability (51.60), which remains a problem for countries at all income levels.

• Opportunity: Average world performance is best on Personal Freedom and Choice (61.23) with scores on the other three components significantly lower: Access to Advanced Education (46.24), Personal Rights (43.10), and Tolerance and Inclusion (42.36). Of these, Personal Rights is the area that has the widest variance, with some countries scoring very poorly with scores as low as 2.32, while others perform well with scores as high as 98.84. Tolerance and Inclusion is the worst or second-worst scoring component for one-third of countries. As countries move into middle income status, Tolerance and Inclusion scores often deteriorate before they improve. Access to Advanced Education, on the other hand, tends to improve as countries get richer, first achieving high primary and secondary education levels, and building the proportion of citizens with university training.

Figure 2.1/ World Social Progress Index and Component Scores

Click on the image for larger view.

World Social Progress Index And Component Scores Cmyk

Social Progress by Country
With these global averages as context, we now turn to the centerpiece of our analysis: the 2015 Social Progress Index by country (see Table 2.1). We ranked 133 countries with sufficient data to calculate scores for all 12 components. From highest to lowest in terms of social progress, we classify the countries into six tiers from ‘Very High Social Progress’ to ‘Very Low Social Progress.’ Each tier represents a distinct group of social progress scores on a statistical basis.

Table 2.1 / Social Progress Index 2015 results

Very High Social Progress Countries
Ten countries in the world represent the “top tier” in terms of social progress and register generally strong performance across all three dimensions. The average dimension scores for this tier are: Basic Human Needs is 94.77, Foundations of Wellbeing is 83.85, and Opportunity is 83.07. These countries show generally strong performance on Personal Freedom and Choice and Tolerance and Inclusion. As with most high-income countries, the top 10 score lowest on Ecosystem Sustainability and Health and Wellness, but they distinguish themselves with slightly better performance on both components than their peers. Nearly all of the top 10 are relatively small countries, with only Canada having a population greater than 25 million.

The top three countries in the world on Social Progress are Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland with closely grouped scores between 88.36 and 87.97. Despite the tightly clustered overall scores, there is variation among the countries in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

Norway, the top country, ranks first in the world on Foundations of Wellbeing (with a score of 88.46), due in part to achieving the highest score on Access to Information and Communications. Norway is 9th in terms of Basic Human Needs and Opportunity.

Sweden, the second place country, registers a more balanced portfolio across the Index. While it does not lead the world on any individual dimension, it ranks 3rd on Foundations of Wellbeing (86.43), 5th in terms of Opportunity (82.93), and 8th on Basic Human Needs (94.83).

Switzerland, the third place country, is 2nd in the world on both Basic Human Needs (95.66) and Foundations of Wellbeing (86.50), and is the top performer in the world on Ecosystem Sustainability. In contrast, Switzerland ranks 10th in terms of Opportunity (81.75), driven by weaker performance on Access to Advanced Education and Tolerance and Inclusion.

The rest of the top ten includes Iceland, New Zealand, Canada (the highest ranking member of the G7), Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, and Australia. These countries are closely bunched, with scores of between 86 and 88. Of this group, Finland recorded the highest scores of all countries on Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and Personal Freedom and Choice, Denmark is the world’s top performer on Shelter, New Zealand tops Personal Rights, and Iceland has the highest performance on Tolerance and Inclusion.

Overall, the findings from the top 10 reveal that there are strong models in the world for advanced social progress. Consistent strength in Basic Human Needs as well as several distinctive areas of strength in Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity are the key characteristics of this highest tier.

However, even the strongest countries in terms of social progress have unfinished agendas and areas for improvement. For example, nearly all these countries score low on Ecosystem Sustainability with an average score of only 66.08.

High Social Progress Countries
A group of 21 countries, ranging from the United Kingdom (84.68) to Italy (77.38) represent the next tier of countries in terms of social progress. This group includes many rich countries, as would be expected, but also some high performing emerging countries from Europe, Latin America, and Asia. This group includes a number of the world’s leading economies in terms of GDP and population, including the remaining six members of the G7: the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, the United States, France, and Italy.

The average dimension scores for this tier are: Basic Human Needs is 90.86, Foundations of Wellbeing is 77.83, and Opportunity is 73.82. While the countries of this tier have high scores overall on the Social Progress Index, they generally have one or more components with significantly lower scores. The weakest component for this group as a whole is Ecosystem Sustainability.

The Social Progress Index reveals significant differences among these leading nations.
• The U.S. leads the world in Access to Advanced Education, making Opportunity (82.18) its highest ranked dimension (8th), but performs weakest in Ecosystem Sustainability and Health and Wellness.
• The United Kingdom demonstrates strength in Opportunity, ranking 6th with a score of 82.78, but ranking only 19th in Basic Human Needs (92.22).
• Germany’s highest ranked dimension is Foundations of Wellbeing (10th) where its score is 81.50, despite its weakest performance relative to others in Health and Wellness.
• Japan’s strength is in the area of Basic Human Needs (95.01; 5th), whereas both Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity are below 80 (with ranks of 20th and 19th). Japan tops the world in Access to Basic Knowledge and is weakest on Ecosystem Sustainability. In Opportunity, Japan scores well in Personal Rights (5th) but low in Tolerance and Inclusion (60.31; 42nd).
• France performs best in Basic Human Needs (91.16; 22nd) but faces challenges in the other dimensions due to low scores in Ecosystem Sustainability and Tolerance and Inclusion.
• Italy scores highest in the Basic Human Needs dimension (88.39; 29th) but shows weakness across the Opportunity dimension (66.76; 30th).

The emerging European countries in this tier - Slovenia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, and Poland - all score highly in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care, but fail to meet the level of Health and Wellness achieved by the other countries in this group. In contrast, the Latin American countries, Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica, have relatively balanced performance across the twelve components, with weakest scores in Access to Advanced Education and Ecosystem Sustainability (see Social Progress Performance by Region and Country Group later in this chapter).

The differences in performance within this tier illustrate a key finding of the Social Progress Index: Even at relatively high levels of economic development, there is considerable variation across countries across components of social progress. Even within a dimension, strength in a specific component need not spill over to adjacent components within that dimension. The sharp observed contrasts in strengths and weaknesses reflect not only cultural differences, but also policy and investment choices. European countries, Japan, and the high-performing Latin American countries in this tier tend to have broad social safety nets that may explain differences in social progress outcomes. These countries register lower 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.

Upper Middle Social Progress Countries
A third tier of 25 countries comprises some countries that acceded to the European Union after 2000, Balkan countries, Latin American countries, rich countries from the Middle East, and Greece, the only EU15 country that falls into this category instead of tiers one and two. The group includes countries at sharply different levels of economic development, ranging from Paraguay ($7,833) to Kuwait (which has one of the highest measured GDPs per capita in the world, $82,358, but is ranked 47th in terms of Social Progress). This group reveals that high GDP per capita does not guarantee social progress. Scores range from Hungary at 74.80 to Paraguay at 67.10. This diverse group of nations has achieved generally good (though not world-leading) levels of social progress. Average scores for this tier are: Basic Human Needs is 80.66, Foundations of Wellbeing is 73.52, and Opportunity is 57.73.

A main finding in this group is sharply lower scores on the Opportunity dimension compared to Basic Human Needs and Foundations of Wellbeing. As shown in Figure 2.2, every country in the upper middle social progress group, regardless of region, scores significantly lower on the Opportunity dimension than Basic Human Needs and Foundations of Wellbeing. This trend is most marked for very high income countries, such as UAE and Kuwait, that do well on aspects of social progress that are more correlated with GDP per capita and countries of southeastern Europe, including the former Yugoslavia, where there are specific issues with minorities. Of this tier, Jamaica, Brazil, and Mexico diverge from this trend, showing less variability among their three dimension scores, reflecting a broader positive performance on this dimension by Latin American countries.

Israel, the fourth richest countries in this group, ranks 40th in the Social Progress Index with a score of 72.60. Israel’s performance in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and Water and Sanitation is at the same level as top tier countries. Similarly, it scores high in Access to Basic Knowledge and Access to Advanced Education. However, Israel lags in Personal Safety, Ecosystem Sustainability, and Tolerance and Inclusion.

Lower Middle Social Progress Countries
The fourth tier, comprising 42 countries, is the largest tier, ranging from Thailand at 57th (with a score of 66.34) to Nepal at 98th (with a score of 55.33). A meaningful level of social progress has been realized within this tier, particularly in Basic Human Needs where no country within this tier scores below 55.50. However, no country within this tier scores above 62.38 on Opportunity. The average dimension scores for this tier are: Basic Human Needs is 72.34, Foundations of Wellbeing is 66.90, and Opportunity is 47.14. The countries in this tier are closely bunched in terms of their overall Social Progress Index score, even compared to other tiers, but they have widely differing strengths and weaknesses which lead to diverse social progress agendas.

One group of countries stand out for having weakness in the area of Basic Human Needs, including Latin American countries such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, as well as relatively prosperous African nations such as South Africa. Personal Safety is the lowest scoring component of Basic Human Needs for these countries. Venezuela and South Africa score far below the tier average for this component.

Other groups of countries have weaknesses concentrated in Foundations of Wellbeing or Opportunity. Uzbekistan, for example, has a major weakness in Foundations of Wellbeing, while Iran and Egypt have their greatest weakness in Opportunity. These reflect wider regional patterns, specifically the Middle East and North Africa where Opportunity scores reflect challenges in Personal Rights.

Low Social Progress Countries
The fifth tier of 27 countries ranges from Cambodia (99th, 53.96) to Nigeria (125th, 43.31) and includes many Sub-Saharan African countries. GDP per capita in this group is quite low, all below $6,500, with the exception of Iraq, which has a much higher GDP per capita. The average dimension scores for this tier are: Basic Human Needs is 50.03, Foundations of Wellbeing is 58.01, and Opportunity is 38.35. It is notable that it is only in this tier and the Very Low Social Progress tier that average Basic Human Needs scores are lower than Foundations of Wellbeing. This suggests that countries in these bottom two tiers have, on average, not yet achieved the level of economic resources to make significant advances in Basic Human Needs.

This group is led by a tightly clustered group of Asian countries: Cambodia (53.96), Bangladesh (53.39), and India (53.06). Cambodia performs best on the Foundations of Wellbeing dimension while India’s highest score is in Basic Human Needs. Foundations of Wellbeing, India’s second highest component, shows strong performance in Access to Basic Knowledge. Bangladesh scores best in Foundations of Wellbeing, with Basic Human Needs a very close second driven by strong performance in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care. Pakistan is the poorest performing Asian country in this group with an overall score of 45.66.

Among the low social progress countries, there are large deviations in scores across the three dimensions, especially among the Sub-Saharan African countries. Djibouti, for example, scores more than 10 points higher than the others in the region on Basic Human Needs (64.18). However, it is the weakest performer on Foundations of Wellbeing (44.02). This incongruence is driven by weak scores in Access to Basic Knowledge, Ecosystem Sustainability, and Access to Information and Communications. Within this group, Rwanda scores relatively strong but has a mixed picture at the dimension and component level, with low scores on Access to Information and Communications and Personal Rights. Nigeria, the bottom country in this group, reveals similarly large contrasts between dimensions. It is one of the weakest performers in Basic Human Needs (39.04) ranking 130th, but performs much better (100th) on Foundations of Wellbeing (61.51).

Iraq’s social progress score is sharply reduced due the ongoing conflict that is causing poor performance on the Personal Safety component and the entire Opportunity dimension (26.67).

The countries in this group face serious development challenges in multiple areas. The Social Progress Index can be used to identify those areas where countries show the greatest need, as well as to identify possible models for success.

Very Low Social Progress Countries
A group of eight countries registers the lowest levels of social progress, from Ethiopia (41.04) to the Central African Republic (31.42), and represents a material step down in social progress from low social progress countries. The average dimension scores for this tier are: Basic Human Needs is 38.46, Foundations of Wellbeing is 48.55, and Opportunity is 26.05.

Of the final eight countries, the top five countries cluster together: Ethiopia, Niger, Yemen, Angola, and Guinea ranging from 41.04 to 39.60 points. Each country performs best on Foundations of Wellbeing, but scores very low on the Opportunity dimension. This group is followed by Afghanistan after more than a four point drop in Index score to 35.40.

The Social Progress Index provides evidence that very low social progress cannot be attributed to extreme poverty alone. Only half of these countries are also among the poorest eight countries. Many other poor countries are able to achieve significantly higher levels of social progress. In this bottom tier, Angola and Yemen are both classified by the World Bank as middle income countries, but social progress has suffered in the past due to conflict.

Figure 2.3: Social Progress Index results by tiers

Social Progress Index Scores By Tiers Map


Further insight into the drivers of social progress can be gained by examining regional and other commonly used groupings of countries. Figure 2.4 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 and Central and South Asia are the worst performing regions. By highlighting key similarities and distinctive patterns within and among regions, it is possible to get a closer understanding of how social progress is realized (or not) across the world.

Figure 2.4 / Social Progress Index results by region

Social Progress Index Results By Region

Fifteen of the top 20 countries on the Social Progress Index are European. Norway (1st), Sweden (2nd), Switzerland (3rd), and Iceland (4th) lead the region and world. The Nordic countries, culturally progressive with strong social safety nets, are the highest performing area within Europe, with all countries scoring among the top 10 countries in the Index and leading the world in nearly every component. The bottom seven countries in the broad region are all former Soviet Union states: Azerbaijan (76th), Russia (71st), Moldova (70th), Belarus (66th), Ukraine (62nd), Armenia (61st), and Georgia (60th). Luxembourg and Malta do not have sufficient data for an overall Social Progress Index score, but do have scores for many components.

If the 28 countries of the European Union were one country , they would score 80.78 and would rank 22nd, just below France and just above the Czech Republic The EU-15 countries that preceded the post-2000 enlargement would rank 18th with a score of 82.21, while the new 13 countries as a group would score only 75.33 and rank 32nd in the world. There is generally strong consistency in the scoring and trends within the groups of 15 and 13, but there are also some significant divergences.

Slovenia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, and Poland all record higher Social Progress Index scores than Italy (31st). Slovenia (19th) outperforms Spain (20th) and France (21st). Greece, an EU-15 country, performs more like an EU-13 country. This weak performance is not explained by the current economic crisis in Greece, as we discuss further in Chapter 4.

All countries in the European Union and EFTA outperform non-EU European countries with the exception of Romania, which trails Serbia and Montenegro. Better EU performance is especially notable in Personal Rights, Personal Freedom and Choice, and Tolerance and Inclusion, which are important issues that countries acceding to the EU need to address. Newer members of the EU such as Romania and Bulgaria lag significantly behind their EU peers.

The UK stands out in Europe with a high score on the Opportunity dimension, particularly in the area of Personal Rights and Access to Advanced Education. Italy, on the other hand, performs relatively poorly on Opportunity with low scores on Personal Freedom and Choice and Access to Advanced Education. Italy also ranks lowest among European Union countries on Personal Safety. France and Germany score much better on Basic Human Needs and Foundations of Wellbeing than Opportunity. Both are brought down by Tolerance and Inclusion. Spain outperforms most large EU countries in Tolerance and Inclusion, but performs particularly poorly in Ecosystem Sustainability.

The Social Progress Index data reveals clearly the diverging fortunes of the European countries that made up the former Soviet Union. Estonia (23rd) is the best performer of this group. Latvia (33rd) and Lithuania (35th) are further behind but have still achieved a level of social progress close to that of Greece and well ahead of Russia (71st). These differences in social progress performance cannot be explained by economic development alone. Russia’s social progress lags behind Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, despite Russia’s significantly higher GDP per capita. In part these differences reflect different starting positions – not all Soviet Republics had a similar level of development – but the data suggests that these countries have been on very different social progress trajectories over the last 20 years, with the Baltic republics that acceded to the EU doing the best.

The former communist countries of this region score well on Access to Basic Knowledge and Access to Advanced Education. However, they show particularly poor performance in Opportunity, especially Russia, Belarus, and Azerbaijan. One of the most striking findings in the Social Progress Index data is the poor performance of all the former communist countries on Health and Wellness, particularly former Soviet Republics. Even the former communist countries of the European Union score far below the rest of the EU on Health and Wellness. The legacy of communism in terms of unhealthy lifestyles and poor environmental performance has been difficult to reverse.

Turkey outperforms most former communist (EU and non-EU) on Health and Wellness, but lags on Personal Safety, Access to Information and Communications, and the Opportunity dimension.

Figure 2.5 Social Progress in Europe

Performance In Europe Cmyk

North America (United States and Canada)
The North American region comprises just two countries, the United States and Canada (Mexico is included in Latin America and the Caribbean). Canada ranks sixth in the world on the Social Progress Index, while the United States ranks just 16th. Canada outperforms the United States across the three dimensions of the Index, although the U.S. ranks first in the world on the Access to Advanced Education component.

The two countries have generally similar scores and both register their lowest scores in Health and Wellness and Ecosystem Sustainability, but the U.S. trails Canada substantially in Personal Safety, Tolerance and Inclusion, and Health and Wellness. 

Oceania (New Zealand and Australia) is the single highest performing region in terms of social progress (there is no overall Social Progress Index score for Papua New Guinea) with New Zealand ranked 5th and Australia ranked 10th.

New Zealand is particularly strong in the Opportunity components of Personal Rights, Personal Freedom and Choice, and Tolerance and Inclusion. Australia has generally strong performance, with a slight weakness in Ecosystem Sustainability. Papua New Guinea, which has data for only nine out of the twelve components, has low a particularly low score in Water and Sanitation.

Latin America & the Caribbean
The best performing countries in Latin America on the Social Progress Index are Uruguay (24th), Chile (26th), and Costa Rica (28th); the worst performing are Guyana (87th), Cuba (84th), and Honduras (82nd). Belize, Haiti, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago only have sufficient data coverage to calculate some of the Social Progress Index components. Overall, South America significantly outperforms Central America, and both outperform the Caribbean.

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. At least in part, this balance reflects some common investments across Latin America in social progress. Government and civil society have worked to largely eradicate extreme hunger or homelessness, and provide access to primary and secondary education. And, relative to many other areas of the world, there has been a significant shift towards choices enhancing Opportunity, including a commitment to personal rights as well as broad tolerance.

Despite this, Latin American countries on the whole lag with Personal Safety and Access to Advanced Education compared to other regions, with Venezuela having the lowest score in Personal Safety and Haiti the lowest score in Access to Advanced Education.

Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica stand out with particularly strong scores in the Opportunity dimension. Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica are among the top countries in the world, with Jamaica and Brazil also ranking very high. Cuba, on the other hand, ranks lowest in the world on Personal Rights. Venezuela is the next lowest in Personal Rights in the region.

Long-term development problems, chronic instability and the devastating earthquake have led Haiti to be an extreme outlier in Basic Human Needs in the region, scoring nearly 30 points below the next lowest country, the Dominican Republic. Globally, Haiti ranks above only Sierra Leone, Chad, and Central African Republic in this dimension.

After decades of isolation, Cuba unsurprisingly scores very low on Access to Information and Communications, ranking not only lowest in the region but above only Djibouti globally. At the same time, it achieves high scores in the Basic Human Needs dimension, ranking first in the region in Personal Safety, second in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care, and second in Access to Basic Knowledge. 

East Asia & Pacific
The East Asia & Pacific region spans a large geography and includes countries of vastly different size, economic development, institutional development, and political organization. Accordingly, it displays an especially wide variation in social progress, with high performing Japan (15th) and South Korea (29th) to low performing Myanmar (119th), Laos (102nd), and Cambodia (99th). Singapore, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam do not have sufficient data to calculate an overall Social Progress Index score.

The one component that shows similarity across the region is Health and Wellness, where East Asia and the Pacific scores high compared to other regions. Japan has the longest life expectancy globally, although Singapore leads on the Health and Wellness component overall in the region. Vietnam and Japan also perform well in the component. China, Myanmar, and Laos trail the rest of the region.

Performance is most varied in the Personal Rights component, with Japan scoring very high, twenty points above the next country in the region, Timor-Leste. On the other extreme, restrictive political systems place China, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos near the bottom of all countries globally. Relatedly, Myanmar and Laos also significantly lag the rest of the region in Access to Information and Communications.

There is also wide variation in the Tolerance and Inclusion component, though no countries in the region score high in this component. Singapore leads the region. Myanmar, Indonesia, and China register the lowest scores. 

Central & South Asia
Central and South Asia trails all regions but Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of overall Index performance. The top performers for the region are Mongolia (81st), Kazakhstan (83rd), and Sri Lanka (88th). The worst performance belongs to Afghanistan (131st) followed by Pakistan (122nd). Bhutan and Turkmenistan have partial data only.

There is a large divergence between South Asia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Central Asia still sees the benefits from investments made during the Soviet era and performs especially well in the area of Access to Basic Knowledge, with average scores at the level of non-EU European countries. Perhaps also as a result of the Soviet legacy, these countries perform very poorly on Health and Wellness, Ecosystem Sustainability, and Personal Rights. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, in particular, score very low on Personal Rights. Rapid economic growth in Kazakhstan has not yet caused it to significantly outstrip its Central Asian peers on social progress. Kazakhstan scores 61.38 on the Index, a close second to Mongolia, but has a higher GDP per capita by $13,000. South Asia lags in Shelter, Tolerance and Inclusion, and Access to Advanced Education.

Bhutan, a pioneer in GDP alternative measures with its Gross National Happiness measure first introduced in 1972, has data for only 10 of the 12 components. As a Buddhist country with restricted tourism, it is unsurprisingly that Bhutan leads the region by a large margin in Personal Safety and Ecosystem Sustainability. Mongolia stands out as a positive outlier in the Opportunity dimension, particularly in the Personal Rights component.

Taliban rule followed by ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has significantly stunted social progress and as a result Afghanistan trails the other countries of the region by a large margin in the components of Basic Human Needs and ranks lowest in the region in the Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity dimensions as well. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa scores the lowest of all the regions on average Social Progress Index score. The top performing Sub-Saharan African countries are Mauritius (36th), South Africa (63rd), and Botswana (65th). The Central African Republic (133rd) and Chad (132nd) register the lowest scores among all countries in the Index. Data availability is especially poor in Sub-Saharan Africa so 11 countries have scores in only some of the Social Progress Index components: Burundi, Cape Verde, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

The region as a whole scores highest on Nutrition and Basic Medical Care, Access to Basic Knowledge, and Health and Wellness. The third, Health and Wellness, captures health weaknesses that are more prevalent in developed countries so it is not surprising that this region fares well, with the notable exception of South Africa. All sub-regions of Africa trail far behind the rest of the world in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care, Water and Sanitation, and Shelter.

The strongest performers on nearly every component are located off the continent. The small island nations of Mauritius and Cape Verde have the highest levels of social progress in the region. Mauritius is the leader on all four components of the Basic Human Needs dimension, often by a very large margin. Cape Verde is the top country on Access to Information and Communications and Health and Wellness and leads all other countries in the region on Personal Rights scoring more than 15 points above the next country, Ghana.

Progress in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care has lagged severely in the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, and Chad, which score well below the next worst country Zambia. Zambia, in turn, scores substantially below the rest of the countries in the region. Ghana shows strong performance in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and Personal Rights.

South Africa is the second best performer in this region, with an Index score of 65.64, and a leading score in Access to Information and Communications. Kenya is the 8th ranked country in this region. The country has significant challenges in meeting Basic Human Needs (46.48), but performs well in the Health and Wellness (72.20) and Ecosystem Sustainability (62.86) components.

Nigeria struggles across all aspects of the Social Progress Index, with an overall score of 43.31, ranking 125th. The country faces particularly significant challenges in Water and Sanitation, Personal Safety, and Tolerance and Inclusion. The last two components directly reflect the current crisis with the increase of attacks by Boko Haram in the northern region on Nigeria.

Ebola ravaged West Africa this past year, and continues to threaten the region though its spread has slowed significantly. The pattern that is most prominent in the three countries that have suffered most from Ebola (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) compared to other countries which were able to contain outbreaks, are low scores on Shelter, Access to Basic Knowledge, and Access to Information and Communications. Challenges in these areas can directly affect efforts of health officials to isolate those with the illness and hamper the spread of information on preventing infection, as well as signaling a general lack of infrastructure.

Middle East & North Africa

The top performers in social progress in the Middle East and North Africa are the United Arab Emirates (39th), Israel (40th) and Kuwait (47th). The lowest scores are for Yemen (128th) and Iraq (113th). Bahrain, Libya, Oman, Qatar, and Syria have sufficient data for only some of the components.

The Middle East & North Africa region includes both oil-rich countries and conflict-affected countries. Both groups fare poorly on the Social Progress Index, particularly the Opportunity dimension, compared to other regions.

Nutrition and Basic Medical Care is the region’s top component and it ranks higher than Latin America. The region ranks lowest in the world on Personal Rights, Tolerance and Inclusion, and Ecosystem Sustainability.

The North African countries tend to perform similarly, with the exception of Morocco, which trails significantly behind the other countries on Water and Sanitation, Access to Basic Knowledge, and Access to Advanced Education. Libya scores substantially below the group on Shelter, Personal Safety, and especially Ecosystem Sustainability. The greatest variation is in the Personal Rights component. While no countries in the region score well on this component, Tunisia, the highest ranking country, scores substantially better than Libya, the worst.

The Middle Eastern countries show slightly more variation, with Yemen at the bottom in nearly every component. Qatar stands out with a Personal Safety score well above other countries in the highly volatile region. Israel far exceeds the other countries in the region on Access to Advanced Education.

The BRICS countries are not a regional grouping, but are often viewed as an important country group. While the BRICS are generally seen as countries with significant economic growth potential, social progress performance is mixed at best. Three of the five BRICS countries are in the lower middle social progress group, including South Africa at 63rd, Russia at 71st, and China at 92nd. Russia has a much higher GDP per capita than Brazil (42nd) and South Africa (63rd) yet ranks lower on the Social Progress Index (71st). Brazil outperforms the BRICS on social progress with an upper middle social progress ranking 42nd. India falls low Social Progress group with a score of 53.06 (101st).

Brazil and South Africa are strong on Opportunity, but perform poorly on Personal Safety. Russia performs poorly on nearly every component with the exception of Access of Advanced Education, on which it ranks second in the world. China scores lowest on the Opportunity dimension. China and Russia have very low scores in Personal Rights. India has low scores common to lower-middle income countries, but shows particular weakness in Health and Wellness and Tolerance and Inclusion.

Trends in Social Progress

Measuring social progress over time is a top priority of the Social Progress Index. In order to compare 2015 results to 2014 results, we created a restated 2014 index, which incorporates minor methodological revisions and restated data from sources. Much like GDP or the Human Development Index, the Social Progress Index will continue to be updated over time and as new data becomes available or data is retroactively changed by the source we will restate our past indexes in order to provide the best measurement possible with a comparable history. Appendix X displays the 2015 and 2014 restated index scores for the 133 countries with complete data.

The key finding from comparing the two indices is that the broad patterns are consistent, showing robustness in the methodology. However, we caution against putting too much stock in year-to-year Index comparison. While some data in the Index changes from year to year, many indicators are updated less frequently. Therefore, a two-year comparison will show only small changes and there is a risk of noise in a single year change measurement. Trends in progress will become clearer as more time-series data is added.


The Social Progress Index, based exclusively on indicators of social and environmental outcomes, offers a revealing picture of countries’ levels of development that is independent of traditional economic measures. It shows that countries experience widely differing patterns of social progress and huge differences in social progress achieved by dimensions and components. 

Countries at all levels of development can use this data to assess their performance and set priorities for improvement. Most countries will be able to identify specific areas of relative strength, and these are social progress foundations upon which they can build. At the same time, every country exhibits areas of relative and absolute weakness, and identifying these are areas for prioritization and investment. At the same time, setting a social progress agenda will depend on, among other factors, the level of resources available in an economy, and the relationship between Social Progress Index and traditional measures of economic development. In general terms, the Index reveals that richer countries tend to achieve higher social progress than poorer countries. Yet our discussion of individual countries and regions also suggests that this relationship is neither simple nor linear. We therefore explore this issue in depth in the next chapter.