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What the 2022 Social Progress Index tells us about Personal Rights



Social Progress Insights is a series of short briefs aiming to provide insights on the current state of the world based on the Social Progress Index. The Social Progress Index® (SPI) is a well-established measure, published since 2013, that is meant to catalyse improvement and drive action by presenting social outcome data in a useful and reliable way. Composed of twelve components and three dimensions, the Social Progress Index can be used to benchmark success and provide a holistic, transparent, outcome-based measure of a country’s wellbeing that is independent of economic indicators. The 2022 Social Progress Index fully ranks 169 countries. Personal Rights is one of the twelve fundamental components of the Social Progress Index. Personal rights enable an individual to participate freely in society without the intrusion of government, social organizations, or private power over personal freedom. These rights include political rights, rights of association and expression, as well as the right to own property. All contribute to dignity and worth and facilitate the participation of individuals in building a free and democratic society where the people’s voices are valued in determining state and community affairs.


On average, the world is as protective of personal rights as Kazakhstan or Ethiopia. While Denmark offers the highest personal rights, North Korea is the worst performer by some margin. The world population has faced a considerable recession in personal rights since 2011 (-5.3 points). Most significantly so for North America (-8.1 points), followed by South Asia (-7.9 points) and Europe (-6.7 points). Overall, personal rights have deteriorated for 112 countries (66%) since 2011, including four G7 countries – the US, the UK, France and Canada. Most high-income countries are among the top-performers barring only Singapore and Middle East Arabian countries. Lower income countries have a more disparate access to personal rights. Authoritarianism is a particular inhibitor for personal rights with liberal democracies having the highest median scores and closed autocracies having the lowest.

Global and Regional Insights

The Personal Rights component scores are estimated based on six key indicators: freedom of religion, property rights for women, freedom of peaceful assembly, access to justice, freedom of discussion and political rights. The 2022 SPI calculates the Personal Rights component for 169 countries. 

Acute global and regional disparities in the safeguard of personal rights are observed globally, as evidenced from the map below. On a scale of 0-100 countries’ performance ranges from Denmark’s top score of 98.1 to North Korea’s lowest score of 3.2.




Considering the regional, population-weighted, average scores for Personal Rights, North America outperforms other regions with a score of 88.8, followed by Europe (78.6) and Latin America & Caribbean (74.9). The worst performing regions are East Asia & Pacific (44.4) and Middle East & North Africa (44.7). As per the 2022 scores, most high-income European countries are among global top-performers however, the regional average is undermined by lower scoring countries such as Russia (54.0), Turkey (38.2) and Belarus (30.2). If the European Union is analysed separately, it would be placed right above North America with a score of 93.1. Globally, 42 of the 49 high-income countries have scores above 80, barring only Singapore and Middle East Arabian countries. In contrast, on the lower end of the spectrum, only 5 of the 27 low-income countries score above 70, all of which are in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. 



Figure 2 provides a more intelligible insight into the relationship of a country’s income and Personal Rights component. The median score for high-income countries is 92.6 and most countries are clustered on the top-end of the scale. For low-income countries, the median is 52.3 and country scores are much more scattered across the scale. This is indicative of factors other than income also being key contributors to Personal Rights determination. In this context, the effects of personal rights on economic growth have also been keenly investigated. Most studies have hypothesized personal rights to have a positive causal effect on economic growth (Koob et al., 2017; Zeaiter and Kassem, 2017).






Personal Rights are particularly compromised in authoritarian regimes (Repucci & Slipowitz, 2022). Figure 3 represents the distribution of component scores by the prevailing regime type in the country., Most liberal democracies are clustered on the higher end of the scale with a median score of 95.2, followed by electoral democracies (82.7). Median scores decrease with increasing authoritarianism as electoral autocracies have a median score of 57.1, followed by closed autocracies with a median score of 33.3. The lowest scoring liberal democracy, Bhutan, despite being a lower-middle income country has a better score than the world average. The only five high-income countries scoring less than 50 are all closed autocracies. Overall, Mali is the highest scoring closed autocracy with a score of 65.3. 


Temporal Shifts in Personal Rights

The 2022 SPI calculates Personal Rights scores for countries as early as 2011. Figure 4 depicts the population-weighted average regional scores since 2011. The world, on average, has seen a deterioration in Personal Rights by 5.3 points from 2011 to 2022. North America has experienced the highest recession of 8.1 points since 2011. Although it has consistently been the top scoring region and maintained a score above 95 till 2017, since 2017 the score for North America has dropped by 6.5 points to 88.8. Similarly, both Europe and Latin America & Caribbean have seen a consistent decline since 2011 by over 6 points. South Asia has seen a deterioration of 7.9 points since 2011. Conversely, Central Asia and Caucasus has made the highest improvement by 8.7 points since 2011.



On a country level, Gambia has made the highest improvement in Personal Rights by 30.5 points since 2011. This is followed by Uzbekistan (29.9) and Tunisia (28.2). While Gambia and Tunisia have improved their scores to above 75 in 2022, Uzbekistan still scores a modest 51.2. On the other hand, Nicaragua, with a drop of 31.1 since 2011, is the worst decliner followed by Belarus (24.9) and Turkey (24.1). All three worst decliners have slumped to scores below 40 in 2022.


Personal rights in the USA have regressed considerably by 9.0 points since 2011. Interestingly, 7.2 points have declined only since 2017. Similarly for the UK, Personal Rights scores have decreased by 4.0 points since 2011. France has seen a deterioration of 2.4 points and China of 5.4 points. Canada has maintained its score since 2011. 


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