LONDON – Japan leads the world in health and wellness but was pulled down by other indicators in a global index that ranks countries by social and environmental performance in a drive to make social progress a priority for politicians and businesses. The top country overall is New Zealand.
The Social Progress Index, published Thursday, rates 132 countries on more than 50 indicators, including health, sanitation, shelter, personal safety, access to information, sustainability, tolerance and inclusion, and access to education.
The SPI asks questions such as whether a country can satisfy its people’s basic needs and whether it has the infrastructure and capacity to allow its citizens to improve the quality of their lives.
“The index shows that economic growth does not automatically lead to social progress,” said Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, the nonprofit organization that publishes the index. “If we are to tackle problems such as poverty and inequality, it shows that measuring economic growth alone is not enough.”
New Zealand received high scores for personal rights and freedom, Internet access and school enrollment. It was followed in the top 10 by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark and Australia.
Japan was 14th overall but led the world in health and wellness, which combines such measures as life expectancy and the rate of obesity. It ranked 63rd in the treatment of both women and of immigrants.
Other large economies also fared less well than expected, with Germany in 12th place, the U.K. in 13th, the United States 16th and France 20th. All of the rich nations except Germany scored poorly on environmental sustainability.
America also ranked poorly on health and wellness — despite being a top spender on health care — and on access to basic knowledge, with just 92 percent of children in school.
France lagged Slovenia (18th) and Estonia (19th) and had low scores on sustainability and opportunity, especially tolerance and inclusion.
Italy was in 29th place, hurt by poor access to advanced education, sustainability and tolerance and inclusion.
The low rankings of China (90th) and India (102nd) showed that their rapid economic growth is not yet being converted into better lives for their citizens, said Green.
Chad was last, behind the Central African Republic, Burundi, Guinea, Sudan, Angola, Niger, Yemen, Pakistan and Nigeria.