The best countries for social progress, according to researchers

The latest Social Progress Index was released. It shows the best countries in terms of health, safety and education.

Humanity faces many challenges – some, like the climate crisis, of its own making – but overall life is improving in most countries around the world.

That’s according to the latest Social Progress Index(SPI), which again attempts to measure the success and 168 countries. The index was created by researchers using key indicators such as quality healthcare, personal safety and access to education. They also use access to technology and rights to calculate a score for each country.

The index was launched a decade ago and just published its most recent findings. The verdict? Norway is the world’s most progressive country, with Finland and Denmark ranking second and third respectively. The United Kingdom was 18th and the United States 24th.

Overall, 147 nations scored better than a decade ago. Only four countries (the US. Brazil. Syria. South Sudan) had a worse score. “Social progress is advancing across the world,” the report concluded. “But it remains slow and uneven.”

Despite the overall picture of progress, the report’s authors found that the world is declining significantly on personal rights – 116 of the 168 countries covered by the index have seen individual rights rolled back since 2011. “While not universal, this trend is apparent across all regions and levels of social and economic development,” it concluded. 

Encouragingly, researchers noted that the relationship between social progress and emissions is weakening – proof that sustainability does not mean a compromise in quality of life. 

World's best countries

The top ten was dominated by Scandinavian nations, as they so often do. Image: Copenhagen by Nick Karvounis

“There are countries that have been highly effective at improving living standards and quality of life while emitting more modest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to other higher-income countries that are developing at the expense of the environment,” the report concluded. 

Sweden, Costa Rica and Ghana were noted to emit relatively low levels greenhouse gases while outperforming big emitters like America on many aspects related to social progress.

“Higher levels of social progress are less likely to indicate higher emissions in 2021 than was the case just eleven years ago,” the report added. 

World's best countries

Sweden is one nation that has made significant social and environmental progress. Martin Magnemyr

Another point of interest in the index is its weak link between economic growth and social progress. Researchers suggest that this raises further questions about the merits to using GDP as a measure of societal success. 

“Rising income usually brings major improvements in areas such as access to clean water, sanitation, literacy, and basic education,” the index reported. “But on average, personal security is no better in middle-income countries than low-income ones, and is often worse.” 

It added: “Too many people, regardless of income, live without full rights and experience discrimination or even violence based on gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Traditional measures of national income, such as GDP per capita, fail to capture the overall progress of societies.”


The 25 most advanced countries for social progress

  1. Norway 
  2. Finland 
  3. Denmark 
  4. Iceland 
  5. Switzerland 
  6. Canada
  7. Sweden 
  8. Netherlands 
  9. Japan 
  10. Germany 
  11. Australia 
  12. New Zealand 
  13. Ireland 
  14. Austria 
  15. Luxembourg 
  16. Belgium 
  17. South Korea 
  18. United Kingdom 
  19. France 
  20. Spain 
  21. Estonia 
  22. Czech Republic 
  23. Italy 
  24. United States 
  25. Portugal

Main image: Oslo Opera House, Norway. Credit: Arvid Malde