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Does a large GDP determine social progress?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Social progress is defined as the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens; establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives creating the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.

Governments and leading academics are increasingly recognising that GDP per capita is an insufficient measure of a country’s well-being. There is growing support for efforts to develop more meaningful measures of national performance.

The Social Progress Index, launched in April 2013, measures to what extend countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens. The Social Progress Imperative combined social performance indicators with outreach to effect large scale change.

The Index measures include basic human needs such as nutrition and medical care; air water and sanitation; shelter and personal safety. Other components relating to well-being include access to information and communications; access to basic knowledge; health and wellness and ecosystem sustainability.

Here are some of the findings that show a country’s ranking on the GDP index doesn’t necessarily indicate the results of other measures in social progress:

Many rich nations performed poorly on other measures

         The United States ranks just 11th in terms of health and wellness even though it spends the most per capita on healthcare globally,

         Australia ranks only 22nd for shelter despite being ranked 6th in terms of GDP,

         Spain ranks 22nd for personal freedom and choice even though it is 11th in terms of GDP.

Many poorer nations performed better than expected based on their level of income

         Rwanda is 48th in terms of GDP but ranks 9th in terms of primary school enrolment,

         Mozambique is 50th (bottom) in terms of GDP, but ranks 14th in terms of equality and inclusion,

         Ghana is 44th in terms of GDP, but ranks 16th in terms of personal rights. 

The UK is ranked 2nd for the overall foundations of well-being, second to Switzerland, but is ranked 32nd for ecosystem sustainability. This measure - which looks at a number of components including CO2 emissions per capita and energy use is negatively correlated to GDP per capita: the richer countries tend to have the worse scores. Countries rich in natural resources are at the bottom of the ranking United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, United States, Canada, Australia, and Russia.

The UK has been ranked 5th for opportunity which includes measures for personal rights; access to higher education; personal freedom and choice and equity and inclusion.

On personal rights - measured by freedom of speech, political rights and a number of other components - the UK shares top spot with a number of other countries (including Canada and Sweden) and comes in ahead (marginally) of the US (6th), France (11th) and Germany (13th). 

To find out more about the Social Progress Index visit:



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