Social progress slow and uneven globally, worsening in U.S.

Social progress slow and uneven globally, worsening in U.S.

Social progress remains slow and uneven around the globe, while many of the metrics on which it is based have worsened in the United States, a report from the Social Progress Imperative finds. 

Based on fifty social and environmental indicators — including access to basic health care and nutrition, clean water and sanitation, education, and a healthy environment, as well as protection of personal rights and freedoms — grouped into three broad dimensions — basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity — the 2020 Social Progress Index assigns a population-weighted score of 64.24 (out of a possible 100) to the world overall, with broad dimension scores of 74.65 for basic human needs, 60.82 for well-being, and 57.25 for opportunity.  

The sixth edition of the index ranked Norway first for overall social progress out of a hundred and sixty-three countries, followed by Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand, while the United States ranked twenty-eighth — down from twenty-sixth in 2019, twenty-fifth in 2018, and eighteenth in 2017. According to this year's scorecard, the U.S. ranked thirty-fourth on basic human needs, thirty-seventh on well-being, and fourteenth on opportunity; scored relatively low on indicators such as child mortality rate (#45), homicide rate (#95), access to quality education (#91), and access to quality health care (#97); and saw significant declines in a number of other indicators, including protection of political rights (#64), equality of political power by socioeconomic position (#84), and protection from discrimination and violence against minorities (#100). The U.S. is one of just three countries whose overall index score has fallen since 2011 (Brazil and Hungary are the others). 

In addition, an executive summary (30 pages, PDF) of this year's findings suggests that, at current rates of progress, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals will not be met until 2082, more than a half-century past the original 2030 target, and that the COVID-19 pandemic could set progress toward the goals back another decade. A Social Progress Index-Ipsos poll conducted in July and August found that majorities of respondents in countries hardest hit by COVID-19 said their countries should prioritize social progress in terms of health and well-being (72 percent) over economic growth (28 percent) and that they should continue to prioritize social outcomes (53 percent) over economic growth (47 percent) after the pandemic is over.

Social Progress Imperative CEO Michael Green told the New York Times that the coronavirus will affect health, longevity, and education around the globe, but that equity and inclusiveness seem to offer a measure of protection to societies that embrace them.

"Societies that are inclusive, tolerant, and better educated," said Green, "are better able to manage the pandemic." 

"2020 Social Progress Index: Global Results." Social Progress Imperative webpage 09/10/2020. "2020 Social Progress Index executive summary." Social Progress Imperative report 09/10/2020. Nicholas Kristof. "'We're No. 28! And Dropping!." New York Times 09/09/2020.