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Measuring human wellbeing. The Social Progress Index 2015


For many decades, economic development has been considered the main factor which indicates not only a country’s performance, but also its inhabitants’ wellbeing. However, there are many more aspects that can result in comfort, satisfaction and, ultimately, happiness. Or their total opposite, when the case.

In 2013, Social Progress Imperative brought a new approach to this matter, by launching a beta version of the Social Progress Index, a rich framework for measuring multiple dimensions of social progress. Based on this first preview, the Social Progress Index was officially launched last year.


According to the organization, social progress is “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, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential”.

The above mentioned definition encompasses all three dimensions the index relies on. Each dimension is comprised of several elements, which include a series of indicators, scored on a scale from 0 to 100:

  1. Human basic needs: does the country provide for its people’s most essential needs? This dimension comprises the following aspects:
  • Nutrition and basic medical care: Undernourishment, Depth of food deficit, Maternal mortality rate, Child mortality rate, Death from infectious diseases;
  • Water and sanitation: Access to piped water, Rural access to improved water source, Access to improved sanitation facilities;
  • Shelter: Availability of affordable housing, Access to electricity, Quality of electricity supply, Household air pollution attributable deaths;
  • Personal safety: Homicide rate, Level of violent crime, Perceived criminality, Political terror, Traffic deaths.
  1. Foundations of wellbeing: is the basis in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain wellbeing? The following sub-dimensions and indicators are included here:
  • Access to basic knowledge: Adult literacy rate, Primary school enrollment, Lower secondary school enrollment, Upper secondary school enrollment, Gender parity in secondary enrollment;
  • Access to information and communications: Mobile telephone subscriptions, Internet users, Press Freedom Index;
  • Health and wellness: Life expectancy, Premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, Obesity rate, Outdoor air pollution attributable deaths, Suicide rate;
  • Ecosystem sustainability: Greenhouse gas emissions, Water withdrawals as a percentage of resources, Biodiversity and habitat.
  1. Opportunity: do individuals have the chance to reach their full potential? It includes the following aspects:
  • Personal rights: Political rights, Freedom of speech, Freedom of assembly/association, Freedom of movement, Private property rights;
  • Personal freedom and choice: Freedom over life choices, Freedom over religion, Early marriage, Satisfied demand for contraception, Corruption;
  • Tolerance and inclusion: Tolerance for immigrants, Tolerance for homosexuals, Discrimination and violence against minorities, Religious tolerance, Community safety net;
  • Access to advanced education: Years of tertiary schooling, Women’s average years in school, Inequality in the attainment of education, Globally ranked universities.

Besides the average Social Progress Index, countries were also ranked according to each of these dimensions, sub-dimensions and indicators.

2015 findings

This year, if the world were a country, it would score 64.39 in Social Progress, based on a simple average of countries, according to Social Progress Imperative. Divided in the three dimensions, the world scored 68.33 in Basic Human Need, 66.45 in Foundations of Wellbeing and only 48.23 in Opportunity.

The Social Progress Index (SPI) ranked a number of 133 countries, which are clustered in six groups, from Very High SPI to Very Low SPI. At a global level, the first ten positions are occupied by:

  1. Norway – 88.36
  2. Sweden – 88.06
  3. Switzerland – 87.97
  4. Iceland – 87.62
  5. New Zealand – 87.08
  6. Canada – 86.89
  7. Finland – 86.75
  8. Denmark – 86.63
  9. Netherlands – 86.50
  10. Australia – 86.42

Out of the 133 countries ranked, the last ten positions are occupied by the following countries:

  1. Central African Republic – 31.42
  2. Chad – 33.17
  3. Afghanistan – 35.40
  4. Guinea – 39.60
  5. Angola – 40.00
  6. Yemen – 40.30
  7. Niger – 40.56
  8. Ethiopia – 41.04
  9. Nigeria – 43.31
  10. Madagascar – 44.50

Little change can be noticed in the ranking, when comparing countries within each of the three dimensions. Therefore, worldwide, the first five positions for each category are occupied by:

  • Basic human needs: Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Austria, Japan;
  • Foundations of wellbeing: Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Iceland, Netherlands;
  • Opportunity: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Sweden.

Going beyond the traditional economic metrics, the Social Progress Index offers the big picture of the world’s social and environmental development. As Social Progress Imperative mentions, countries can use this ranking to determine their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of social progress, and to establish their own improvement priorities.

Image source: adapted from Pixabay

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