The visual content above looks at the relationships between wealth and social progress. It uses GDP per capita as a measure for wealth and Social Progress Index (SPI) for social progress. SPI is a framework for measuring how much countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens. It uses fifty four indicators in the area of Basic Human Needs, Foundation of Wellbeing, and Opportunity that show the relative performance of nations. Each area has further dimensions:
Basic Human Needs
- Nutrition and Basic Medical Care
- Water and Sanitation
- Personal Safety
Foundations of Wellbeing
- Access to Basic Knowledge
- Access to Information and Communications
- Health and Wellness
- Environmental Quality
- Personal Rights
- Personal Freedom and Choice
- Access to Advanced Education.
The Wealthier, the More Social Progress, but with Outliers
As we can see in the first graph, there is an obvious correlation between wealth and social progress by and large. Generally speaking, the wealthier, the more social progress (or the other way round, can’t conclude which one causes what). The curve flattens after a certain point because the score for social progress is at most 100. For instance, Norway achieved the highest score for SPI of 92.73 and its GDP per capita is $67,294. However, there are some outliers if we look at the curve closely. To analyze outliers, I sliced down the graph by different ranges of SPI scores: SPI scores above 85, SPI scores between 75 – 85, SPI scores 70 – 75, and SPI scores below 70. The following are five noticeable outliers.
Outlier #1: Luxembourg (GDP per capita: $115,874, SPI score: 89.65)
The world’s richest country (per capita) Luxembourg seems to have ‘underperformed’ in terms of social progress despite its affluent wealth. The detailed breakdown of scores reveals that Luxembourg obtained extremely high overall score for Basic Human Needs (95.72), among which the highest score is Water and Sanitation, 99.69. However, the overall score in the area of Opportunity was 81.13, which brought down the country’s rank. Especially the score for Access to Advanced Education was 61.19, ranking the country 62 out of 163.
Outlier #2: the United States of America (GDP per capita: $63,544, SPI score: 85.71)
It may come as a surprise for some that the United States of America ranks 28th in the SPI rankings. Comparing to other countries with a similar GDP per capita, the country underperformed in the areas of Basic Human Needs and Foundations of Wellbeing. In particular, the elements such as Personal Safety (73.82) and Environmental Quality (72.18) received relatively lower scores.
Outliner #3: Israel (GDP per capita: $43,611, SPI score: 83.62)
Israel has a high GDP per capita but relatively underperformed in SPI scores. Israel underachieved scores in the areas of Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity. Elements such as Access to Information and Communications as well as Inclusiveness are the county’s weakness. The lowest score the county saw was 47.03 for Inclusiveness.
Outlier #4: Kuwait (GDP per capita: $32,373, SPI score: 77.47)
Kuwait is a wealthy petroleum-based country at the tip of the Persian Gulf. Comparing to other countries with a similar GDP par capita, Kuwait performed poorly in all three areas concerned. Especially Opportunity is the biggest weakness for the county with an overall score of 60.33. Among all elements, the country underperformed the most poorly in Inclusiveness.
Outlier #5: the United Arab Emirates (GDP per capita: $43,103, SPI score: 70.6)
Another wealthy petroleum-based county in the Middle East being an outlier is the United Arab Emirates. Similar to Kuwait, the country performed poorly in all three areas with Opportunity being the biggest weakness. Elements such as Personal Right and Inclusiveness received extremely low scores (43.42 and 27.10 respectively). This might be because of its unique political system: an elective monarchy. Additionally, other Middle Eastern oil-rich monarchies such as Qatar (GDP per capita: $50,805, SPI score 70.58) and Saudi Arabia (GDP per capita: $20,110, SPI score 65.06) follow the similar trend.
How Accurate Are These Indices?
Although these indices are helpful in measuring the current progress of nations, the variables used to score SPI may be insufficient. One of the insufficiencies is that it does not take historical factors into account. The social progress of a nation should be discussed in the context of history. For example, imperialism and social disparities as a result have left an enormous impact on development of former colonies. However, disconnecting history from social progress could create distorted views on those countries of the least progress.
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