Although GDP has lifted millions of people out of poverty there have been numerous articles/books written on how economic growth alone is not enough to indicate how economies are developing – see previous posts on this topic. An economy that doesn’t account for basic human needs, address educational opportunity, protect the environment, personal freedom etc isn’t achieving success. Therefore understanding the success of countries beyond GDP means inclusion of social progress.
The Social Progress Index aims to meet this pressing need and incorporates four key design principles:
- Exclusively social and environmental indicators: The aim is to measure social progress directly, rather than relying on economic indicators.
- Outcomes not inputs: Measuring a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended nor how much the country spends on healthcare.
- Holistic and relevant to all countries: Creating a holistic measure of social progress that encompasses the many aspects of the health of societies. Knowing what constitutes a successful society for any country, including higher-income countries, is imperative
- Actionable: The Index aims to be a practical tool that will help leaders and practitioners in government, business, and civil society to implement policies and programs that will drive faster social progress.
Each of the twelve components of the framework (see above) comprises between three and five specific outcome indicators. Indicators are selected because they are measured appropriately with a consistent methodology by the same organisation across all of the countries.
The 2016 Social Progress Index includes 133 countries covering 94 percent of the world’s population. An additional 27 countries are included with results for 9 to 11 of the total 12 components. This brings total coverage to 99 percent of the world’s population.
SPI v GDP per capita
Despite the overall correlation between economic progress and social progress, the variability of performance among countries for comparable levels of GDP per capita is considerable – see graph below. Hence, economic performance alone does not fully explain social progress. The Social Progress Index findings reveal that countries achieve widely divergent levels of social progress at similar levels of GDP per capita. You will notice that Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have relatively high levels of GDP per capita but don’t rate as well on the SPI. By contrast although Costa Rica’s GDP per capita is below $20,000 the country does rate highly on the SPI.
The top 12 countries have tightly clustered overall scores between 90.09 and 87.94. Five of the 12 countries in this group are from the Nordic region, confirming that this model of development delivers social progress. More striking is the finding that the majority of countries in this group do not correspond to the Nordic model. The top performers show that there is more than one path to world-class social progress. New Zealand and Australia are the top two performers, respectively, on Personal Rights. New Zealand achieves strong relative social progress, despite its high GDP per capita. This is a significant achievement given that it is harder for countries with higher GDP per capita to over-perform.
Social progress is about meeting everyone’s basic needs for food, clean water, shelter, and security. It is about living healthy, long lives and protecting the environment. It means education, freedom, and opportunity. Social progress goes far beyond crossing a dollar-denominated threshold. We need a much more holistic view of development.