Quality of Life in US Flat Lined Over Past Four Years


The country remains in top 20 on the 2017 Social Progress Index

Tolerance and Inclusion weaknesses are worsening with rise in discrimination

WASHINGTON, DC — As the wealthiest G7 country, the United States (US) should have been able to make much more social progress over the past four years, but its progress has stalled, according to the 2017 Social Progress Index.

Social Progress Imperative, for the first time, is able to compare 128 countries’ social progress performance since 2014 and reveal global, regional, and national trends. The US, along with other advanced nations, has hardly made much progress in the past four years. Most maintain a relatively strong absolute performance but their national progress is slowing and growing more uneven. And new research, released today by the Social Progress Imperative in collaboration with Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School and Scott Stern of MIT, shows compared to countries with similar GDP per capita ($52,704), the US’ performance lags in more than half of the areas that define a good quality of life.

“The US is not only slow to produce social and environmental outcomes, it is failing to address basic human needs, equip citizens to improve their quality of life, protect the environment, and provide opportunity for everyone to make personal choices and reach their full potential,” said Social Progress Imperative CEO Michael Green. “Regardless of economic growth over the same period, a society which fails to meet its own social needs is not succeeding. And it is certainly not competitive on the global stage.”

The US ranks 18 out of 128 countries measured by the 2017 Social Progress Index, and scores best in the world on Access to Advanced Education. US improved on all indicators of this component, most notably average years of tertiary education and mean years of schooling for women.

This area is the nation’s only relative strength, amidst a list of disappointing results on the half the Index, including Water and Sanitation to Personal Safety; Access to Information and Communications to Health and Wellness; and Personal Freedom and Choice to Tolerance and Inclusion. Despite some modest improvements, all remain overall weaknesses for the country that spends more per capita than most OECD countries on policing (source: UN) and education programs (source: NCES).

• Personal Safety improved slightly due to a decrease in homicides and traffic deaths.

• Access to Basic Knowledge improved due to increases in primary school enrollment and secondary school enrollment.

• The US has become less tolerant since 2014. Its Tolerance and Inclusion scores declined significantly due to an increase in anti-Semitic activities and an increase in discrimination against minorities. The US ranks 23 globally across this category (which includes tolerance towards homosexuals, religious minorities and immigrants as well), placing it behind countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.

In these areas, the US falls behind countries with similar incomes, such as Sweden, Norway, Canada, Australia, and Austria. In fact, Canada (rank 6 and top G7 country) beats the US on over 80% of 2017 Social Progress Index’s 50 social and environmental measures.

“Economic growth alone is not sufficient to advance societies and improve the quality of life for citizens. True success, and growth that is inclusive, requires achieving both economic and social progress,” said Professor Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School, who co-authored the 2017 Social Progress Index report and leads the Social Progress Imperative’s scientific team. “The US is the wealthiest G7 country in terms of GDP per capita, for example, but it is lagging behind other leading countries in areas like education, health, personal safety, and inclusion. America’s failure to advance social progress is limiting our economic growth and standing in the way of prosperity that is widely shared. Countries must rethink how they measure success. Benchmarking social progress and taking the steps needed to advance it will be the key to national and local success in this century.”

Other social progress challenges:

• On the Index’s Health and Wellness measures the US (rank 34) scores poorly. This is thanks to a number of factors including the high suicide rate (12 per 100,000 people take their own lives each year) and the high number of premature deaths from illnesses including cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease (299 deaths per 100,000 people per annum).

• Despite having access to large telecommunications providers and world-class media sources, the US only scores 84.63 out of 100 on Access to Information and Communications, ranking 27 in the world.

◦ This is in part because Americans are not keeping pace with other wealthy nations when it comes to connecting to the Internet—less than 75% of US adults are Internet users. In the UK, 92% use the Web while in Canada the equivalent figure is 88%.

◦ Even with its global leadership in innovation, the country’s scores in this category has remained relatively the same over the past four years (84.91 in 2014), except for a disturbing trend of declining press freedom.

• On Personal Freedom and Choice, the US ranks 19—an underachievement accounted for by low satisfaction over life choices (1 in 4 Americans are unsatisfied), relatively high levels of perceived corruption in the public sector and the relatively high incidents of early marriage for women: 3% of American women are married sometime between the ages of 15-19 (the UK by comparison registers 0% on this measure—owing to such a statistically low figure of early marriages).

“During a time when trust is in free fall, the Social Progress Index can be a tool for government, business, and civil society to regain that trust, and make transparent the case for rebuilding the institutions that matter most to citizens, communities, and nations,” said Sally Osberg, Skoll Foundation President and CEO and Social Progress Imperative board member.

Like the US, the world is underperforming on social progress compared to what the average GDP per capita suggests is possible. Despite progress in the last decade, our world is still failing most egregiously on Water and Sanitation (access to piped water and improved sanitation facilities) and Access to Basic Knowledge (adult literacy and secondary school enrollment).

“We have the resources to do better. The main problem is the inequality in wealth between rich and poor nations. Global aid flows are not sufficient to help the poorest countries to provide these basic needs for all,” Green said. “Greater income can easily and positively influence a country’s social progress performance in more than half of the areas measured on the Social Progress Index. But getting richer simply won’t move the needle far enough; the most stubborn challenges need innovation and other creative interventions, making social progress achievable by even the lowest resourced countries.”

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are at stake. Social progress will need to accelerate, if our world is to see the step change required to achieve the SDGs. The world as a whole needs to reach a score of 75, an improvement of 10 points, on the Social Progress Index to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Thankfully, the issues highlighted in the Social Progress Index are solvable, and business is part of the solution.

“Addressing the complex challenges society faces, globally and locally, is a critical role for business. That is why Deloitte has been working alongside Social Progress Imperative to empower communities with new ways to think about and measure what matters most for society to advance and prosper,” said David Cruickshank, Deloitte Global Chairman and Social Progress Imperative board member. “Today’s business leaders want to better understand the societal forces shaping our world. I believe this Index has the ability to help enable these leaders, alongside those in government and civil society organizations, to systematically identify a strategy towards responsible and inclusive growth through prioritizing the most pressing needs of their communities.”

Other global findings:

• In the last four years, social progress has advanced worldwide but not fast or far enough. The average world score rose from 63.19 in 2014 to 64.85 in 2017—a 2.6% increase on the Social Progress Index. Out of the 128 countries measured on the Social Progress Index, 113 countries improved since 2014. The average improvement was 1.37 points.

◦ Access to Information and Communications and Access to Advanced Educations are driving global social progress.

◦ Despite these achievements, Personal Rights, Personal Safety, Tolerance and Inclusion are eroding worldwide.

◦ In areas like Environmental Quality, Health and Wellness, Personal Freedom and Choice, and Shelter progress is slow and uneven. This means we’re seeing incremental change and pockets of social progress rather than widespread transformation. Some countries are even backsliding in these areas.

• One of the most concerning trends is that the world’s most powerful countries have failed to make significant progress over the past four years.

◦ Despite having the greatest wealth, largest populations and strongest regional influence, G20 countries like France, the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey and China have been largely unsuccessful at improving social and environmental outcomes and continue to underperform compared to what their GDPs suggest is possible.

• Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is far from being the sole determinant of social progress. Across the spectrum, from rich to poor, we see how some countries are much better at turning their economic growth into social progress than others.

• Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Nepal, Senegal and Chile are identified by the 2017 Social Progress Index as the nations that most overperform on measures of social progress.

• Angola, Saudi Arabia, Central African Republic, Kuwait, Chad and Afghanistan are identified by the 2017 Social Progress Index as the nations that most underperform on measures of social progress.

About the Social Progress Index:

The Social Progress Index is the first holistic measure of a country’s social performance that is independent of economic factors. The index is based on a range of social and environmental indicators that capture three dimensions of social progress: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. The 2017 Social Progress Index includes data from 128 countries on 50 indicators. It includes 98% of world population. It is designed as a complement to GDP and other economic indicators to provide a more holistic understanding of countries’ overall performance.

The 2017 Social Progress Index is generously supported by Deloitte, Ford Foundation and Skoll Foundation, along with generous individual donors. Other contributors, including the primary authors Professors Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School, and Scott Stern of MIT, are listed within the report.

About Social Progress Imperative:

The Social Progress Imperative’s mission is to improve the lives of people around the world, particularly the least well off, by advancing global social progress by: providing a robust, holistic and innovative measurement tool—the Social Progress Index; fostering research and knowledge-sharing on social progress; and equipping leaders and change-makers in business, government and civil society with new tools to guide policies and programs.

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Staff Report

Learn more about the 2017 Social Progress Index and make a gift to support this movement’s mission at www.socialprogressimperative.org.