When It Comes to Social Progress, the Average Human Lives in Cuba

A newly released index measures social progress across 133 countries, independent of economics.

There is no shortage of indices measuring and comparing the diverse experience of being a human in 2015. But there’s one thing that studies like the OECD Better Life Index, Gross National Happiness Index, and the Human Development Index all have in common: money. Or more specifically, the inclusion of gross domestic product (GDP) or or gross national income as a defining metric.

The idea behind the Social Progress Index, released this week by the U.K.-based Social Progress Imperative, is slightly different. Measuring 133 countries across 52 indicators, the SPI is the only data-driven index measuring social progress and human wellbeing that doesn’t take economic growth into account. In a world where global development projects increasingly fall under a model of export-led GDP growth, the SPI is out to prove that GDP is not always destiny.

SPI’s executive director Michael Green, who formerly worked on development projects for the U.K. government, explains why this is useful.

“By taking out economic indicators, you can then look at the relationship between economic and social [factors] as two independent variables,” Green said. “We’re in no way anti-economic growth, but understanding the relationship between the two helps us see that it’s possible to still have social progress without a lot of economic growth.”

Take, for example, Uruguay and Costa Rica, which are ranked 24th and 28th on the SPI list, respectively. Both of these countries over-perform relative to their GDP, meaning that despite having relatively low economic standing, they are exceeding their peers when it comes to providing social wellbeing for their citizens.

So what are Uruguay and Costa Rica doing right, according to the index? The SPI measures social progress under three dimensions—opportunity, basic human needs, and foundations of wellbeing—each of those with their own four sub-components, covering areas like personal safety, shelter, ecosystem sustainability, and access to advanced education. On a global scale, the world is performing best on nutrition and basic medical care as well as access to basic knowledge (both of which were Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2000). Conversely, most countries falter when it comes to personal rights, tolerance, and inclusion.

When it comes to the U.S., ranked 16th, the country under performs in areas of health and wellness, access to basic knowledge, and access to information and communications. Green says these findings indicate not that the U.S. doesn’t have high quality healthcare or internet infrastructure available, but that as a country it has failed to distribute these things evenly.

“Basically our findings are telling the American inequality story at a much more granular level, or in other words, where the inequality lies,” Green said. “All these failures are about the failure to provide services to everyone equally.”

As is often the case with measures of social wellbeing, northern European countries Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland predictably lead the rankings, with New Zealand and Canada also making it into the top 10. The average score for all the countries included the index was 61 (out of a possible 100). Green says this score helps determine which country typifies the most average human experience when it comes to social wellbeing.

“If you want to know what the average human life experience is like, it’s likely to be the similar to the experience of a citizen of Cuba or Kazakhstan.”

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less