Canada ranks 7th on Social Progress Index

Canada ranks 7th in the world on the Social Progress Index, a measure of human wellbeing that goes beyond traditional economic measures such as GDP or per capita income.

New index aims to measure human progress beyond GDP growth

The Social Progress Index aims to measure human wellbeing and progress beyond economic indicators such as GDP growth. (CBC)

Canada ranks 7th in the world on the Social Progress Index, a measure of human wellbeing that goes beyond traditional economic measures such as GDP or per capita income,

A U.S. non-profit group, the Social Progress Imperative, collaborated with the World Economic Forum to create the  index, which this year looked at 132 countries around the world for the first time.

Social Progress Index

  1. New Zealand
  3. Switzerland
  5. Iceland
  7. Netherlands
  9. Norway
  11. Sweden
  13. Canada
  15. Finland
  17. Denmark
  19. Australia
  21. Austria
  23. Germany
  25. United Kingdom
  27. Japan
  29. Ireland
  31. United States
  33. Belgium
  35. Slovenia
  37. Estonia
  39. France

Using measures of access to basic human needs such as food and shelter and of equality of opportunity such as education and personal freedom, the index aims to measure quality of life throughout the globe. 

Last year the first Social Progress Index ranked 50 countries. This year, its ranking includes 132, with New Zealand at the top of the list.

Canada falls behind such countries as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Norway, but ahead of both the United States and United Kingdom.

Countries with higher incomes tend to have better social progress, but rising per capita GDP does not always lead to improved wellbeing, according to Michael Green, executive director of  Social Progress Imperative, which released the results of its research today at the 2014 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

“The Social Progress Index is a complimentary measure to GDP. It’s a measure that can sit alongside GDP and then we can look at the relationship between economic growth and social progress and understand when is growth good for us and when is growth not so good for us and how can social progress actually help growth.” he said in an interview with the The Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

The index highlights how the U.S., with a higher per capita GDP, falls behind New Zealand on measures such as access to quality education and healthcare and personal safety.

Greens says the index measures outcomes, rather than spending in areas such as health and education.

"We’re measuring water, we’re measuring safety, we’re measuring tolerance, inclusion," he said.

Canada earns its high ranking from its high scores on personal freedom and choice and on providing opportunity for people to improve their position in society.

It also has strong scores on the index for providing for basic human needs, including healthcare and nutrition, but could improve its performance by boosting access to clean water outside urban areas and ensuring shelter is available to all citizens, according to the report from the Social Progress Initiative.

Canada would also benefit from more investment in “ecosystem sustainability,” according to the report. 

Developed nations like Canada run the risk of falling behind in the rankings unless they tackle the problem of obesity which is common to both rich and middle-income countries. 

"The best thing a poor country can do is grow economically. Social progress shoots up as you grow economically," Green says.

"Once you get to middle-income country status, your new wealth starts to create problems. A big area is environmental sustainability, another is health and wellness—you start developing new health problems like obesity."