Although quality of life is improving across the globe, social progress — as measured in terms of basic human needs, well-being, and opportunity — has been slow and uneven, and protections for individual rights, personal safety, and tolerance and inclusion have eroded in many countries, a report from the Social Progress Imperative warns.
Based on fifty social and environmental indicators, including access to opportunity, health care, and education, the 2017 Social Progress Index (95 pages, PDF) ranked Denmark first out of a hundred and twenty-eight countries, followed by Finland, Iceland and Norway (tied), and Sweden. The United States ranked eighteenth overall, while the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Chad, Angola, and Niger ranked at the bottom of the list. Funded in part by Deloitte, the Ford Foundation, and the Skoll Foundation, the study found that while a hundred and thirteen countries have seen their social progress scores improve since the index was launched in 2014, the world is underperforming on social progress compared to what average GDP per capita suggests is possible.
According to the report, more countries saw their scores for personal rights — including political rights and freedom of expression — worsen over the last four years than improve, while almost as many countries experienced a drop in their scores for personal safety — ranging from traffic deaths to political terror — as saw an increase. In addition, scores for tolerance and inclusion have been volatile, with significant declines in the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and the U.S., in part as a result of declines in tolerance toward immigrants and an increase in discrimination against minorities. Indeed, the wealthiest countries have failed to make significant progress overall, the report notes, including global and regional powerhouses such as the U.S., France, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey, and China.
"We have the resources to do better," said Social Progress Imperative CEO Michael Green. "The main problem is the inequality in wealth between rich and poor nations. Global aid flows are not sufficient to help the poorest countries to provide these basic needs for all....Greater income can easily and positively influence a country’s social progress performance in more than half of the areas measured on the Social Progress Index. But getting richer simply won’t move the needle far enough; the most stubborn challenges need innovation and other creative interventions, making social progress achievable by even the lowest resourced countries."