U.S. Underperforming On Social Progress

April 9, 2015       Mark Hrywna      

The United States ranks 16th in the world on social progress, with two of the most underperforming areas being “personal safety and “health and wellness.”

The Social Progress Index (SPI) ranks 133 countries based on their social and environmental performance among 12 component groups, within three categories:
•    Basic human needs, which includes shelter, personal safety, water and sanitation, and nutrition and basic medical care;
•    Foundations of wellbeing, which includes access to basic knowledge, access to information and communications, health and wellness, and ecosystem sustainability; and,
•    Opportunity, which covers personal rights, personal freedom and choice, tolerance and inclusion, and access to advanced education.

The 2015 index was released yesterday by the Social Progress Imperative, ahead of the 2015 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship next week in Oxford, England.

The Social Progress Index is dominated by European nations, with 14 of the top 200, including the top three: Norway (88.36), Sweden (88.06) and Switzerland (87.97). New Zealand (87.08) ranks 5th, Canada (86.89) ranks 6th, and Japan (83.15) is the highest-ranked Asian nation at No. 15. The social progress score for the entire world, as an average of country scores weighted by population, would be about 61 out of 100 – equivalent to Cuba and Kazakhstan.

Due to changes made to this year’s index, including the number of countries covered, the 2015 index is not comparable to the 2014 version.

“The U.S. is significantly underperforming across a wide range of indicators, despite enjoying one of the highest levels of per capita GDP in the world,” said Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative. “The Social Progress Index highlights the scale of the challenges faced by the U.S., in particular when it comes to both the health of the nation and ongoing threats to citizens’ personal safety,” he said in a press release announcing the results.

“The findings appear to support he case for giving more Americans access to affordable, quality healthcare. The U.S. has some of the best healthcare providers anywhere in the world, so for it to finish behind countries including Morocco, Venezuela and Greece on health care measures indicates that much more needs to be done to address these problems,” Green said.

Despite spending the most on healthcare per capita of any country in the world, the U.S. ranked 68th on “health and wellness,” tied with Togo, ahead of Zambia, and behind Mauritania. Peru ranked first in “health and wellness,” followed by Iceland, Singapore, Norway and Sweden. The poor showing for the U.S. was attributed to life expectancy, which is almost 79 compared with the U.K.’s 81.5, and an obesity rate of almost 32 percent, which ranks 126th in the world.

The U.S. ranked 30th, behind Hungary and ahead of Cyprus, in personal safety, a category dominated by Scandinavian nations, with Iceland ranked first, followed by Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Denmark. Part of the reason for that ranking is the 11.4 traffic accidents per 100,000 people, significantly higher than Canada’s 6.8 per 100,000 or the U.K.’s 3.7 per 100,000.

The worst score for the U.S., like many countries, was on “ecosystem sustainability,” ranking 74th, behind Peru and ahead of South Africa. Switzerland ranked first. On the bright side, the U.S. scored highly on “access to advanced education,” ranking first, ahead of Russia, Canada, U.K., and Australia.

The 133 nations are broken down in six segments, from “very high social progress” (the top 20 countries), to “very low social progress” (the bottom eight). The U.S., at No. 16, is in the top half of the “high social progress” segment.

The SPI was created by a team whose chief advisor is Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter and is designed to complement GDP and other economic indicators “to provide a more holistic understanding of countries’ overall performance.”