There are some surprises to be found in this year's Social Progress Index, which measures the social advancement of 133 countries

Every year, a U.S.-based non-profit group called the Social Progress Imperative releases what is called the Social Progress Index. The group is headed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter who hopes the index, which measures social advancement, will soon replace simple economic wealth (or GDP) as the standard unit of measure for a country’s success.

In its third annual report earlier this April, 133 countries were ranked based on 52 different indicators divided into three main categories. Basic Human Needs which includes things like shelter, access to water and personal safety. Foundations of Wellbeing includes access to basic knowledge, health & wellness and pollution. And finally Opportunity which centers on personal freedom, tolerance and access to advanced education.

Leading the charge this year was Norway, followed by Sweden and Switzerland. All five Nordic (Scandinavian) countries placed in the top eight. Rounding out the rest of the top ten was last year’s first overall New Zealand (5), the Netherlands (9), and Australia (10). Despite eight years of Conservative rule, my fellow Canadians finished 6th while the United States placed 16th overall.

Socially Progressive Countries

The top ten socially progressive countries of 2015 probably doesn’t come as a surprise to very many people, Scandinavia has long been the crown of socially progressive civilization. What is astonishing however, is the different subcatagories and where certain countries rank within them.

Let’s start with America. When it comes to Foundations of Wellbeing for instance, a category that encompasses life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment, internet access and press freedom, The United States placed a distant 35th. The strongest group for the US was the freedom heavy Opportunity category, but even there they placed 8th. Canada was first.

In some subcategories of note, the country with the least amount of corruption is Denmark. The country most tolerant of immigrants is the United Arab Emirates while the Netherlands is the most tolerant toward homosexuals. Iceland has the highest percentage of internet users while Norway has 113 cellphone subscribers for every 100 people. I guess they like to communicate.

The most shocking subcategory to me was the Press Freedom Index which went to Finland, but saw the United States ranked 36th. The only area where America was ranked #1 was in the access of advanced education.

Rankings aside. If this index has proven nothing over the last few years, it has made it abundantly clear that you can build a strong socially progressive country without sacrificing your freedom. Keep that in mind when a conservative tells you otherwise.


  1. Thirty-fifth!
    Could we start improving some tragic arenas that we already have all of the knowledge necessary and one which is not only not very expensive but would more than pay for itself and quickly: Prenatal Care. Send healthcare vans into every schoold district and community center with prenatal vitamins, blood pressure readings and nutritional information. Get the Mayors to sponsor it. Prevention is so much less expensive than premature and poorly nurorished babies.

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