U.S. Slides Backward In Social Progress Index

As the world makes slow if uneven progress on social and environmental performance, the United States is falling behind its peer nations, among the few countries to see its Social Progress Index (SPI) score decline during the past decade.

The SPI, released by the Washington, D.C.-based Social Progress Imperative, is the most comprehensive measure of a country’s social and environmental performance, independent of economic factors, and complements traditional measures of success such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The index measures four aspects within each of three areas — basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity — aggregating 50 social and environmental outcome indicators from 163 countries. For the first time ever, the index measures social progress going back 10 years.

Since 2014, the world average score increased from 60.63 to 64.24, with improvement in eight of the 12 components of social progress. Among countries, that score would rank between Ghana and Azerbaijan on the SPI.

The world is improving but progress is slow and uneven, according to the SPI data. Personal Rights and Inclusiveness have declined since 2011 and Environmental Quality and Personal Safety have stagnated overall. The most improvement during that time has come in areas of Access to Information and Communications, Access to Advanced Education, Shelter and Water and Sanitation.

The U.S. joins Brazil and Hungary as the only countries in the SPI to see its score go down during the past decade. Since 2011, 95 percent of countries measured have improved by 1 point or more, and of those, 42 percent have improved by 5 or more points.

The U.S. ranks 28th at 85.71, in the lower half of the second tier (among six) of nations, behind Cyprus and Greece and ahead of Singapore and Malta. In previous years, the U.S. has ranked 16th (82.85), 18th (86.43), and 19th (84.62), though the SPI is refined year to year.

The fastest progress during the past decade has been among developing countries, with Ethiopia, The Gambia and Tunisia showing the most improvement.

Some 13 nations scored greater than 90 on the index. Scandinavian countries are historically among the top-ranked in the SPI and this year is no different, this time with Norway ranked first:

  • Norway, 92.73
  • Denmark, 92.11
  • Finland, 91.89
  • New Zealand, 91.64
  • Sweden, 91.62
  • Switzerland, 91.42
  • Canada, 91.40
  • Australia, 91.29
  • Iceland, 91.09
  • Netherlands, 91.06

If current trends continue, the world will not achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals until 2082, according to the index. And, unless “urgent actions” are taken, COVID-19 will set back that timeline by another decade, pushing it 60 years past the target date of 2030.

This year’s release also includes public opinion polling, in partnership with Ipsos, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows that a majority of people across countries hit hardest by COVID-19 want social progress over economic growth, at the forefront, not only as the crisis continues but once it ends. Young people in particular prefer that their nations prioritize social outcomes after the pandemic is over.

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