How to measure 'social progress'
April 20th, 2014
02:40 PM ET

How to measure 'social progress'

By Dana Sherne

A groundbreaking new study, the Social Progress Index, suggests that economic development is “necessary but not sufficient” for social progress and quality of life.The bad news for America? It isn’t even close to being number one.

Each component of the rankings includes a range of subcategories that reveal a greater diversity than can be reflected in a single measure like gross domestic product. G8 countries Germany (#12), the United Kingdom (#13) and Japan (#14) fare pretty well overall. The rankings of fast-growing economies like China (#90) and India (#102), meanwhile, show that despite despite their fast-paced development in recent years, they still have more to do. And the U.S.? It comes in at 16th place.

Breaking the numbers down, the U.S. ranks 31st in one of the subcategories for basic human needs: personal safety. This measure includes violent crime and homicide rates. Indeed, in the latter category, the U.S. is tied at number 41 with turbulent countries like Ukraine and Lebanon. In the political terror sub-category, the U.S. ranks 80th, along with Venezuela, Indonesia and Cuba.

The U.S. scores especially badly in health and wellness (#70) and ecosystem sustainability (#69). Health and wellness is based on measures like the obesity rate, where the U.S. ranks, perhaps unsurprisingly, at 125. The only countries with lower scores are Mexico, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

But for another subcategory of basic human need, undernourishment, the U.S. comes in first place (along with 65 other countries ranging from the United Kingdom to Malaysia).

And the U.S. belief of itself as “the land of the free and the home of the brave” does get some support from the index. For both political rights and freedom of speech, the U.S. is ranked first. Of course, many other countries share the top spot in both rankings; the other first place nations for free speech span the globe, from Japan and Australia to Mali and Chile.

In addition, the United States does well on the issue of education, at least in terms of advanced education. America comes in first for access to advanced education, although it does fall short in some sub-categories, ranking 24th in inequality in the attainment of higher education.

So the picture is mixed, and it is clear that no one measure can completely capture the entirety of a nation. Still, the Social Progress Index underscores that there is no room for complacency – in the United States or anywhere else.

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soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. chrissy

    The "picture is mixed" because it was meant to be. I don't think this info was meant to get out to JQ Public! 31st for basic human needs, ie: personal safety!! Thats not good! And 41st with turbulent countries!!! Makes ya wonder WHY we are spending so much on a military budget and we rank 41st in the world??? WTH???

    April 20, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • chrissy

      Speaking of basic human needs, I want a pepperoni pizza, NOW!

      April 20, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  2. chrissy

    Particularly with our WONDERFUL NSA dept! And yea im being wwwwaaaaaayyyy sarcastic on that! So we must REALLY look rather foolish to all these countries allys AND enemies, that we've been spying on, doesn't it?

    April 20, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I doubt that I would be happy living in Iceland or Sweden for personal safety, but I love Switzerland, and I could easily live there.
    Now, in New York, NY, one is aware of greatly lowered personal safety, even walking down the best streets on the Upper East Side.

    April 20, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      i do not feel a tremendous lack of personal safety in London or Paris.

      April 20, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        I feel uncomfotable walking to a New York pizzeria in the upper east side, so I call Dominos for a fresh pepperoni pizza.

        April 20, 2014 at 8:30 pm |
  4. PM

    My big question is does this index correlate with the international transparency corruption index. Another interesting comparison would be with the percentage of the population who practice religion (of any kind). At the last census the % of people in New Zealand (the country that is top of the index) who reported a religion was 45%.

    April 20, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Reply
    • PM

      My other big question is, when it rains, is there a positive correlation between pizza sales and rainy weather?
      What percentage of pizza in New Zealand is pepperoni?
      It is 63% in the United States.

      April 20, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  5. chrissy

    Ah lol! So organised religion is the key you think? Personnally i cant agree with that at all. Spiritualism is much more affective to a persons character than what church they attend.

    April 20, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Reply
    • PM

      Lack of organized religion is the key to a successful society. The census question was christian, Muslim, hindu, etc and 55% answered NONE. It did not require church attendance just self reported affiliation. The last prime minister was an atheist and the present one won't say so

      April 20, 2014 at 7:25 pm | Reply
  6. chrissy

    Ok @ PM i guess i misunderstood what you were saying. My apology.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  7. PM

    @chrissy. A gift certificate for a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut would finalize your apology.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Reply
  8. chrissy

    Lmao having fun Jeff? Easter is just another trolling day huh? Knock yourself out ya tool!

    April 20, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  9. TvNyc

    Hi cutie putootie. 🙂

    April 20, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  10. Steve

    The United States also leads the world by far in charity. If were so miserable how come were so willing to help others and the rest of the world that is so amazingly happy and in a state of bliss is unwilling or should we say incapable?

    April 21, 2014 at 9:24 am | Reply
  11. chrissy

    Lol very good point @ steve! And charity begins at home! It should also END there!

    April 21, 2014 at 10:16 am | Reply
  12. Diokpo Sylvanus

    GDP? The US will always come tops, now and for a very long time. Reasons: I am yet to find a people so full of zest and compassion as they are. However, on the latest SPI, Social Progress Index, they are ranked 16th; Not as bad as to command the kind of hoopla that has greeted the news. Food for thought for those who have vilified the President rather than support him for daring to reconfigure for good the flawed operatives of "the Land of the Brave and the free".

    April 21, 2014 at 10:46 am | Reply
  13. New Foreign Policy

    USA rankings in education, security, business, social progress, health care, ... can be improved with new foreign policy orientation: back to partner markets such as EU, NATO, NAFTA and away from Asia (no China, no S.Korea, no Vietnam, ...).

    April 21, 2014 at 11:19 am | Reply
  14. palintwit

    "Social Progress" in the US is measured by the number of tea party patriots getting their teeth fixed. Sales of dental floss south of the Mason-Dixon line is another indicator.

    April 21, 2014 at 11:42 am | Reply
  15. bobcat2u

    Two social workers were walking through a rough part of the city in the evening. They heard moans and muted cries for help from a back lane. Upon investigation, they found a semi-conscious man in a pool of blood. "Help me, I've been mugged and viciously beaten" he pleaded.
    The two social workers turned and walked away. One remarked to her colleague: "You know the person that did this really needs help."

    April 21, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Reply
    • bobcat2u

      Profound ? Perhaps !! Insight into how our safety net operates ? Good indication !! An indication of cracks in our system that need patched ? Definitely !!

      April 21, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  16. Proactive

    This doesn't come as a surprise to some of us who have always known some of these things. It is the reason some of us use the word 'ignorant' to explain some of the views that some uniformed Americans hold of others. It is not an insult but as a way of describing what we know about some of the views and perceptions, which isn't necessarily true. We will never be able to convince those who don't believe it. It is important that we improve on all aspects of life and society starting with our govts.

    April 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  17. swagner2013

    If I did the study the results would be entirely different.

    April 21, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  18. chrissy

    Lmao @ bobcat, pretty accurate story too!

    April 21, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  19. Bigloly

    Interestingly, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) told the same story in its "The Lottery of Life" analysis.
    The time has come for every American to use a mirror and not a screen !

    April 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  20. PaulMN

    These rankings are so subjective. Sweden out-ranks the US is many of these categories, yet the emigration rate of Swedish citizens to the US is much greater than the emigration rate of US citizens to Sweden (on a per capita basis).

    April 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  21. GOP Prayer - GOPers, Read Together and Out Loud With Me

    The GOP Prayer/Mantra/Solution: Dear God...With your loving kindness, help us to turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then, with your guidance and compassion, we will whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. God...Grant us the knowledge to then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. God...Give us the strength during our speeches to repeatedly yell........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!
    In your name we prey (purposely misspelled, or is it?)........Amen

    April 21, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  22. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    April 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  23. Dayton

    So Canada ranks in the top 10 worldwide and #1 in the G7. Was anyone surprised?

    April 21, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  24. galinapetrea

    all these and some other additional criteria like resistence to stress index or happy life index too, plus Pray Out Loud in the public transport, shout out the prayer, sing the Holy Gospel – by the terrorists gangs. all when one is giving away, everything when one is being taken by force, robbed, cracked, trafficked

    April 22, 2014 at 9:04 am | Reply
  25. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    As an indicator of social progress in America, buy two or three tickets to the Metropolitan Opera in NYC and make yourself stay through each performance, right to the final, mandatory standing ovation.
    Then ask yourself whether you want to buy some more tickets.
    Next, listen to recordings of opera singers who made their MET debuts forty or fifty years ago. Ask yourself whether you would buy a ticket to hear those singers (Callas, Tebaldi. Corelli, Albanese,,,).

    April 24, 2014 at 7:59 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Of course, I realize that those singers all made their debuts more than ours!!!!!!!! forty or fifty years ago. I was listening to their recordings during the 1950s.

      April 24, 2014 at 8:20 am | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        The StupidPhone contribited the "ours!!!!"
        I did not mean to say that, Motorola did.

        April 24, 2014 at 8:27 am |

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