Index ranks Canada as sixth most socially advanced country

Posted on in Child & Family Debates

TheGlobeandMail.com – News/National
Apr. 08 2015.   Tavia Grant

Canada is one of the most socially advanced countries in the world, especially when it comes to opportunity for its citizens, though it has room for improvement in areas such as environmental sustainability and obesity rates.

Canada sits in 6th place of 133 countries – the highest of any G7 nation – in an annual “social progress index” to be released Thursday.

The index, whose methodology was developed by Harvard economics professor Michael Porter, is meant to complement the traditional measure of gross domestic product in assessing progress. It tracks 52 indicators – from crime levels to literacy rates and gender equality – that reflect whether a country is providing essential needs to its citizens and opportunities for people to improve their lot in society.

“GDP isn’t a bad thing. It just isn’t the whole story,” said Michael Green, executive director of the index, in an interview from London. This index can be used alongside GDP to show whether economic growth is “really leading to improvement in people’s lives, to what people are calling inclusive growth and shared prosperity.”

“There’s a lot of interest now, post-Arab Spring, post financial crisis, as we’re recognizing the environmental limits of development, as we worry about inequality, whether growth alone has been a good strategy. So social progress is a tool to help us understand whether our growth is good for us and also which types of growth are good for us.”

Canada shines when it comes to opportunity for its people, landing in first place in the world, with high marks for political rights, freedom of assembly and tolerance for immigrants and religious minorities. It fares well in women’s average years of school, the number of good universities, high-school enrolment and the low rates of violent crime.

Canada “has a particular strength in opportunity,” Mr. Green said, which encompasses factors such as personal rights, inclusion and access to advanced education. This is crucial because opportunity plays a key role in increasing life satisfaction and reflects “what matters in terms of being a good society.”

It performs poorly, however, in several other measures such as access to information, particularly in cellphone subscriptions, where it sits in 101st place, which may be due to relatively higher costs and more inflexible plans. It also lags in obesity and suicide rates, along with in habitat protection and water use.

“If you were to ask what is the biggest social-progress challenge Canada faces, it is ecosystem sustainability, in absolute terms,” said Mr. Green, adding that this is the area in which other rich countries are underperforming the most.

Norway sits atop the list as the world’s most socially advanced nation. Rounding out the top five are Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland and New Zealand. The United States is a distant 16th place while the lowest-ranked country in the world is Central African Republic. Last year, Canada was ranked No. 7.

Economic strength doesn’t always move in lockstep with the overall health of society. The analysis finds some countries – such as Costa Rica, New Zealand and Rwanda – punch above their weight in social progress relative to their GDP per capita. Others, such as Saudi Arabia, underperform relative to their GDP. And two key areas – health and environmental sustainability – don’t tend to increase as countries get richer, and thus require concerted efforts to improve, he said.

More cities and countries are using the index to help assess progress, in addition to GDP. Paraguay has adopted the social-progress index to help guide it in making an inclusive-growth long-term development plan, while a number of Colombian and Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro, are using it to track development. The state of Michigan is using it and the European Commission is now adopting it, too, though so far no Canadian city, province or government has.

This isn’t the only social indicator – other rankings look at the well-being of nations or happiness levels. And these measures have faced criticism over subjectivity.

Any assessment of “progress” will have a set of values attached to it, said Mr. Green. “People have been arguing over what makes a good society since Aristotle and probably before. And they’ll probably argue about it for the next two and a half thousand years.”

Its definition is based on academic literature, debate and years of testing. It uses data from the World Health Organization, World Bank, Pew Research Centre and World Economic Forum and weights the indicators to make sure no single measure dominates.

Dr. Porter said the results show that GDP is “far from being the sole determinant of social progress.” And economic growth “that is inclusive and sustainable is important for business and vital for building a prosperous society,” said Steve Almond, chairman of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., in a release.

2015 Social progress index
SPI rank SPI score Country
1 88.36 Norway
2 88.06 Sweden
3 87.97 Switzerland
4 87.62 Iceland
5 87.08 New Zealand
6 86.89 Canada
7 86.75 Finland
8 86.63 Denmark
9 86.5 Netherlands
10 86.42 Australia
11 84.68 United Kingdom
12 84.66 Ireland
13 84.45 Austria
14 84.04 Germany
15 83.15 Japan
16 82.85 United States
17 82.83 Belgium
18 81.91 Portugal
19 81.62 Slovenia
20 81.17 Spain
21 80.82 France
22 80.59 Czech Republic
23 80.49 Estonia
24 79.21 Uruguay
25 78.45 Slovakia
26 78.29 Chile
27 77.98 Poland
28 77.88 Costa Rica
29 77.7 Republic of Korea
30 77.45 Cyprus
31 77.38 Italy
32 74.8 Hungary
33 74.12 Latvia
34 74.03 Greece
35 74 Lithuania
36 73.66 Mauritius
37 73.3 Croatia
38 73.08 Argentina
39 72.79 United Arab Emirates
40 72.6 Israel
41 71.79 Panama
42 70.89 Brazil
43 70.19 Bulgaria
44 69.83 Jamaica
45 69.79 Serbia
46 69.55 Malaysia
47 69.19 Kuwait
48 69.01 Montenegro
49 68.85 Colombia
50 68.37 Romania
51 68.25 Ecuador
52 68.19 Albania
53 67.79 Macedonia
54 67.5 Mexico
55 67.23 Peru
56 67.1 Paraguay
57 66.34 Thailand
58 66.24 Turkey
59 66.15 Bosnia and Herzegovina
60 65.89 Georgia
61 65.7 Armenia
62 65.69 Ukraine
63 65.64 South Africa
64 65.46 Philippines
65 65.22 Botswana
66 64.98 Belarus
67 64.92 Tunisia
68 64.31 El Salvador
69 64.27 Saudi Arabia
70 63.68 Moldova
71 63.64 Russia
72 63.45 Venezuela
73 63.36 Bolivia
74 63.31 Jordan
75 62.71 Namibia
76 62.62 Azerbaijan
77 62.47 Dominican Republic
78 62.2 Nicaragua
79 62.19 Guatemala
80 61.85 Lebanon
81 61.52 Mongolia
82 61.44 Honduras
83 61.38 Kazakhstan
84 60.83 Cuba
85 60.66 Algeria
86 60.47 Indonesia
87 60.42 Guyana
88 60.1 Sri Lanka
89 59.91 Egypt
90 59.71 Uzbekistan
91 59.56 Morocco
92 59.07 China
93 58.58 Kyrgyzstan
94 58.29 Ghana
95 56.82 Iran
96 56.49 Tajikistan
97 56.46 Senegal
98 55.33 Nepal
99 53.96 Cambodia
100 53.39 Bangladesh
101 53.06 India
102 52.41 Laos
103 52.27 Lesotho
104 51.67 Kenya
105 51.62 Zambia
106 51.6 Rwanda
107 50.94 Swaziland
108 50.04 Benin
109 49.6 Congo, Republic of
110 49.49 Uganda
111 48.95 Malawi
112 48.82 Burkina Faso
113 48.35 Iraq
114 47.42 Cameroon
115 47.27 Djibouti
116 47.14 Tanzania
117 46.66 Togo
118 46.51 Mali
119 46.12 Myanmar
120 46.02 Mozambique
121 45.85 Mauritania
122 45.66 Pakistan
123 44.89 Liberia
124 44.5 Madagascar
125 43.31 Nigeria
126 41.04 Ethiopia
127 40.56 Niger
128 40.3 Yemen
129 40 Angola
130 39.6 Guinea
131 35.4 Afghanistan
132 33.17 Chad
133 31.42 Central African Republic
SOCIAL PROGRESS IMPERATIVE

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