U.S. Underperforming on Social Progress Despite Wealth, Study Finds

U.S. Underperforming on Social Progress Despite Wealth, Study Finds

While there is a clear correlation between social progress — as measured in terms of basic human needs, well-being, and opportunity — and per capita GDP, economic wealth alone does not determine social progress outcomes, a report from the Social Progress Imperative finds.

Based on fifty-three indicators in a variety of areas, including access to opportunity, health care, and education, the 2016 Social Progress Index (147 pages, PDF) ranked Finland at the top of the hundred and thirty-three countries included in the index, followed by Canada, Denmark, Australia, and Switzerland. The United States ranked nineteenth overall and twenty-first in basic human needs, thirty-second in well-being, and thirteenth in opportunity. Globally, indicators of nutrition and basic medical care and access to basic knowledge — categories aligned with many of the United Nations' Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals — performed well, while indicators of tolerance and inclusion, personal rights, access to advanced education, and environmental quality fared worse.

Developed in partnership with the Avina, and Skoll foundations and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., and funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, Cisco, and Compartamos Banco, the report also compared each country to fifteen others with similar per capita GDP and found that Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Uruguay, and Malawi were top "overperformers" relative to their economic wealth. The worst "underperformers" were Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, and the Central African Republic, with the U.S. ranked as nineteenth worst, the only major Western democracy on the underperformers' list.

In addition, the index found that, overall, people under the age of 25 are experiencing relatively low social progress, with a weighted score of 60.15, while those over the age of 55 have a weighted score of 67.63.

"The issues the Social Progress Index identifies and tracks are the very issues people around the world care about because the quality of their lives hinges on them," said Sally Osberg, president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation. "The SPI has proven invaluable to governments, businesses, and philanthropies like the Skoll Foundation, which invests in social entrepreneurs driving solutions to the world's thorniest and most pressing problems. By shining a light on where we're advancing social progress and where we're still falling short, the SPI helps us all be more effective agents of change."

"GDP 'No Guarantee' of Quality of Life: Major New Report." Social Progress Imperative Press Release 06/28/2016.