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Surprises in the Social Progress Index Rankings

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The gross domestic product (GDP) has become the primary way to evaluate how countries are doing. However, the Social Progress Index, launched in 2014 by the Social Progress Imperative, aims to provide a more comprehensive picture.

By only looking at the monetary value of goods and services produced within a country, it is easy for data to be skewed or not reflect the full picture. The GDP could be easily skewed by income inequality; consequently, developing countries with high levels of corruption or income equality would be seen as doing better than they actually are.

Purchases made on the black market and payments for cars and appliances besides original down payments are not included, even though this money is used for goods and services. Furthermore, goods produced but not necessarily sold are counted into the GDP, even if the products are sitting in a company warehouse.

The Social Progress Index looks at twelve different components within three different categories: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Well-Being and Opportunity. In comparison with the GDP rankings, there are a few rankings that shouldn’t be a surprise: Norway, Sweden and Switzerland are the top three; all of the Scandinavian countries are in the top ten.

However, there are countries that, based on GDP, one might expect to be more highly ranked. The United States is sixteenth, China doesn’t break the top seventy and no Middle Eastern oil-producing country is ranked above 35.

Countries many consider to be more developing, such as Panama, Colombia and Malaysia, are in the top fifty countries. Ghana is ranked significantly higher than Nigeria, although they have similar GDPs.

To better understand these rankings, the Social Progress Index also includes scorecards for each country and categorizes elements of the data as either relative strengths or weaknesses.

China, for example, has many relative weaknesses in factors contributing to opportunity, including perceived criminality, political freedoms, average years women spend in school and private property rights. For the United States, freedom over life choices, maternal and child mortality rates and community safety net were among the relative weaknesses.

The Social Progress Index Rankings have much to offer organizations at all levels with regards to information and comparison building. This information can be used to help shape policy, guide partnerships and raise awareness on what can be improved in different countries.

Regardless, the Social Progress Imperative’s Social Progress Index, like other indices such as the OECD Better Life Index, raises important questions as to what individuals consider developed versus developing.

Looking at the Social Progress Index and the GDP, the differences between the more holistic Social Progress Index and the money-focused GDP are vast, thus supporting previous research and theories that place well-being at an individual or community level at equal or greater value to economic output.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: Quora, Social Progress Imperative, TED
Photo: Pixabay