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The best countries for social progress, according to new research

The latest Social Progress Index suggests that global living standards have improved for the 11th year running, but the results are a mixed bag depending on where you live. Here are the best countries for health, safety, education, rights and quality of environment

The latest Social Progress Index suggests that global living standards have improved for the 11th year running, but the results are a mixed bag depending on where you live. Here are the best countries for health, safety, education, rights and quality of environment

It might not seem like it sometimes – particularly in 2022, year of the so-called ‘permacrisis’ – but the world has mostly become a better place to live in over the last 11 years. 

That’s according to the latest Social Progress Index, which each year scrutinises life in 169 countries. The index is put together by the Social Progress Imperative, a US-based non-profit that promotes positive social change. Since 2011, its researchers have used key indicators, such as quality of healthcare, personal safety, access to education, access to technology, rights, and quality of environment, to measure progress. They then give annual scores for nations and the world as a whole.  

The latest findings suggest that social progress has marched onwards for the 11th consecutive year, albeit unevenly. Once again, Norway was declared the world’s most progressive country in 2022, with Denmark and Finland ranking second and third respectively. The UK and US both slipped down a place each to 19th and 25th respectively. 

The UK was identified as one of only four countries where social progress has regressed since the index began. The others are Syria, Venezuela and Libya. 

“The UK has slipped into a social progress recession after a lost decade,” the report noted. “We see the impact of austerity measures and Brexit showing up in the data in every area from education, to healthcare, rights, and tolerance.”

The US was the lowest ranking nation in the G7, partly because of its poor safety score. The country was ranked 48th for personal safety, and 107th for interpersonal violence, behind the Republic of Congo, Nicaragua, and Sierra Leone.

The best countries

Norway retained its position at the top of the index, followed by Denmark and Finland. Image: Mike Benna

At the other end of the spectrum, the nations that have taken the greatest strides include Bhutan (home of the gross national happiness index), Ethiopia (where the civil war has just ended), and Sierra Leone (which, in contrast to the US, recently moved to boost reproductive rights). 

Despite reporting another year of progress, the authors of the index warned that globally the rate of progress has halved since 2017, and pointed to further challenges ahead.  

“We have not yet seen the full impact that Covid-19 had on social progress across the world,” they wrote. “When we consider this, plus the risks posed by climate change, economic uncertainty and political change, we see a significant risk that for the first time the world’s social progress could retreat in 2023.”

The best countries

The UK has ‘slipped into a social progress recession’ warned researchers. Image: Stefan Siegel

However, there are reasons to be sanguine. 

“The demand for better lives and greater equality is evident across the world, as we see protests and new political movements for racial equity, women’s rights, climate change, gun violence and beyond,” the report concluded. “There has been a growing expectation that it is not just governments who need to play a role in delivering improvements, but that business is also accountable, and must deliver improvements in the lives of people, as well as protecting the environment for us all.”

The Social Progress Imperative works with decision-makers in more than 45 countries, and says it will use the insights from the latest index “to make a positive difference for all”.

 

The 25 best countries for social progress

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

Main image: Bhutan. Credit: Adli Wahid

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