The Social Progress Index: Measuring the quality of our social nature

Marketers often benchmark their goods and services against the competition. For countries, the main benchmark for nearly a century has been Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. The United States rules in GDP. While increasing GDP does correlate with some improvement in social conditions, it is purely an economic measure. As the measure of a country, a society, it’s narrow and incomplete.

The Social Progress Index goes beyond gross domestic product to measure what makes a country great for its citizens: meeting basic needs, providing for wellbeing, and offering opportunity.

This year, the United States ranks 19th on the Social Progress Index. That’s down three spots from last year, and dangerously close to falling out of the top twenty.

Much of what drags down the score for the US lies in the Foundations of Wellbeing category: access to basic knowledge, access to information and communications, health and wellness, environmental quality. We are marked lower on this score than any other top twenty country, by a lot. The US scores more than 10 percent lower than Norway, the top twenty country with the highest rating in Foundations of Wellbeing.

Areas where the US falls short include obesity rate, suicide rate, greenhouse gas emissions, adult literacy rate, biodiversity, wastewater treatment, outdoor air pollution, life expectancy at 60, premature death from non-communicable diseases, press freedom, primary school enrollment and upper secondary school enrollment.

Some of those weaknesses may seem surprising. We Americans like to think We’re Number One. Press freedom? School enrollment? Didn’t the US invent freedom of the press and universal education? The point of benchmarking is to learn where you really stand against the competition.

The Social Progress Index is great market research for public and social sector marketers who want to make a difference. It pinpoints social goods where we can apply the principles of marketing to support and improve our social nature. If you’re looking for a market in which to start a social venture, here’s your list.

As social and public sector marketers, we know that products and services can address these problems. We know that design, distribution, promotion and pricing can influence these measurements. The question is, will we? Will we make a concerted effort to measure ourselves and seek improvement?

As the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed. For nearly a century, not just the US but the world has closely measured economic progress, and we’ve made great strides. It’s time to start more meaningful measures.

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