The 16 most socially advanced countries in the world

The Social Progress Index is a metric that measures progress through fulfillment of basic human needs (rather than traditional indicators of economic growth).

First released in 2013, the Social Progress Index (SPI) measures a comprehensive array of components of social and environmental performance, aggregating them into an overall framework.

The index, which covers about 99% of the world’s population, was designed by a team
led by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Green and ranks these social and environmental measures that underline well being and opportunity.

“The Social Progress Index shows that countries with similar levels of GDP can have very different levels of social progress,” Green said.

One example: Costa Rica and Thailand rank 59th and 58th in the world in GDP respectively. However, Thailand ranks 57th in the world on the SPI whereas Costa Rica ranks 29th due in large part to significantly higher ratings in personal safety, personal rights, and tolerance and inclusion.

#16 The United States

Students at New York University celebrate their graduation.

2014 ranking: #16

GDP ranking: 6th

In terms of meeting basic human needs, the US ranked 21st overall, including 6th in Shelter. In nutrition and basic medical care, however, the US lagged behind at 39th.

The country ranked 8th overall in Opportunity and 1st in Access to Higher Education. But in terms of personal freedom and personal rights, the US ranked only 15th and 24th, respectively.

The US ranked particularly poorly in overall well-being: 68th in Health and Wellness and 74th in Ecosystem Sustainability.

#15 Japan

Participants from government ministries and agencies take part in the Cyber Defence Exercise with Recurrence (CYDER) in Tokyo September 25, 2013.

2014 ranking: #14

GDP ranking: 20th

Japan ranked 1st in Access to Basic Education and 4th in Shelter, but lagged in Air, Water, and Sanitation (21st), Nutrition (17th), and Health and Wellness (19th). It also ranked 67th in Ecosystem Sustainability.

The country performs well in Personal Rights, where it ranked 5th, but ranked 21st in Personal Freedom and Choice, 42nd in Tolerance and Inclusion, and 19th in Access to Advanced Education.

#14 Germany

Germany was crowned World Cup champion last summer

2014 ranking: #12

GDP ranking: 11th

Germany ranked 1st in Water and Sanitation, 10th in Shelter and 12th overall in meeting Basic Human Needs. The economic giant ranked 50th in Heath and Wellness, however, and 24th in Ecosystem Sustainability.

The country underperformed in Opportunity, where it ranked 16th overall, 28th in Personal Rights, and 18th in Equity and Inclusion. The country ranked better (13th) in both Access to Higher Education and Personal Freedom and Choice.

#13 Austria

People relax in deckchairs on a lawn installed on Vienna's Ringstrasse street by environmental groups to celebrate World Car Free Day in Vienna September 22, 2009.

2014 ranking: #11

GDP ranking: 9th

Austria is fourth best in the world in meeting Basic Human Needs, and is tops in the world in providing clean water to drink and bathe in (tied with several other nations). It also ranks within the top ten in providing Shelter (9th), Personal Safety (7th), and Nutrition and Basic Medical Care (5th).

In terms of well being, the country ranks high in Access to Information and Communication (10th), but lags behind in Access to Basic Knowledge (32nd) and Health and Wellness (38th).

Austria also ranks high in Personal Rights (11th) and Personal Freedom and Choice (14th).

Source: Social Progress Imperative

#12 Ireland

Fans support the Irish national soccer team during a match

2014 ranking: #15

GDP ranking: 8th

The Irish own the twelfth spot, and rank within the top 20 in every major category on the SPI except for Water and Sanitation (where they rank 22nd) and Ecosystem Sustainability (where they rank a paltry 119th).

The Irish also do particularly well in terms of access to opportunity: Ireland ranks second in the world in Tolerance and Inclusion and sixth in Access to Higher Education.

#11 The United Kingdom

Members of the Bicester with Whaddon Chase Hunt take part in the Boxing Day hunt in Winslow, central England December 26, 2007.

2014 ranking: #13

GDP ranking: 19th

The Brits have a lot to be proud of, including their Personal Rights record, where they currently rank second in the world. They rank well (6th overall) in access to opportunity, too.

Elsewhere, the old empire ranks highly in Water and Sanitation (17th), Access to Higher Education (4th), and Access to Information and Communications (15th).

Healthcare is not the nation's strength: the UK currently ranks 27th in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and Health and Wellness.

#9 Netherlands

People celebrate Queen's Day in Amsterdam.

2014 ranking: #4

GDP ranking: 7th

The Netherlands may have dropped five spots in the rankings this year, but the lowlands are still a good place to find a home: the country ranks third in the world in providing Shelter and is tied for first in Water and Sanitation.

Like many other developed nations, Holland lags behind in Ecosystem Sustainability (25th) but more than makes up for it with Access to Basic Knowledge (8th), Access to Information and Communications (2nd), and Personal Freedom and Choice (5th).

The Netherlands does not rank outside the top 25 in any major category.

#8 Denmark

Denmark waves their flag at the opening to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

2014 ranking: #9

GDP ranking: 13th

Denmark is the most advanced country in the world in terms of providing its people with Basic Human Needs including clean water (tied 1st), Personal Safety (5th), and Shelter (1st).

The Danes also enjoy a high quality of life, as the country ranks sixth in Access to Basic Knowledge and fourth in Information and Communication Systems as well as Personal Freedom and Choice.

It isn't all perfect though -- Denmark ranks only 26th in the world when it comes to the Health and Wellness of its people.

#6 Canada

The Canadian woman's hockey team took home the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

2014 ranking: #7

GDP ranking: 14th

If you want to move up in the world, move to Canada. Our neighbour to the north ranks first in the world in providing Opportunity to its people, ninth in Personal Freedom and Choice, and third in both access to Advanced Education and Tolerance and Inclusion.

Canada also breaks the top ten in Personal Safety (8th) and Shelter (7th).

When you account for the Foundations of Well Being, however, Canada loses some of its global stature: the country ranks only 18th in Access to Basic Knowledge and 25th in Access to Information and Communication.

#5 New Zealand

The New Zealand national Rugby team

2014 ranking: #1

GDP ranking: 22nd

Last year's most socially progressive nation may have dropped four spots, but it's not as bad as you think.

New Zealand is tied for first in the world in Water and Sanitation and Personal Rights and is right behind Canada in offering Opportunity for its people (2nd). New Zealand also ranks third in the world for Access to Basic Knowledge and fifth in Tolerance and Inclusion.

In terms of overall well-being, the island nation has some work to do: New Zealand ranks only 28th in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and 34th in Ecosystem Sustainability.

#4 Iceland


2014 ranking: #3

GDP ranking: 15th

Iceland ranks first in Water and Sanitation, Personal Safety, and Tolerance and Inclusion, and second in Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and Health and Wellness. It ranks third in Access to Information and Communications.

It is also worth noting that Iceland ranks 13th in Ecosystem Sustainability, which is higher than any other nation on this list thus far.

Iceland does rank 27th in Access to Advanced Education, which is its only ranking of all major categories outside of the top 15.

#2 Sweden

2014 rank: #6

GDP ranking: 6th

It does not get much better than Sweden. The Baltic nation ranks outside the top 10 in only two categories; Shelter (16th) and Personal Rights (11th).

The Swedes are leaders in Water and Sanitation (tied 1st), Nutrition and Basic Medical Care (3rd), Personal Safety (2nd), Health and Wellness (4th), Personal Freedom and Choice (6th), and Tolerance and Inclusion (7th).

#1 Norway


2014 rank: #5

GDP ranking: 2nd

Norway is the most socially progressive country in the world.

In particular, Norwegians have the strongest Foundation of Well being of any country, ranking first in Access to Communications and Information, second in Ecosystem Sustainability, and third in Health and Wellness.

Norway also enjoys top notch Water and Sanitation (tied 1st), Personal Safety (3rd), and Personal Freedom and Choice (2nd).

Norway can still improve, however: its worst ranking is in its access to Advanced Education, where it sits at 16th. It also ranks 14th in Shelter and 11th in Personal Rights.

With Norway and Sweden sitting at one and two on the SPI, it may finally be time to plan that trip to the Baltics.

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