Social Progress Across the World's Regions
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.
In principle, the unit of measurement for the global SPI is a country however, population-weighted averages allow for the consolidation of country-level scores to the regional level. The 2022 SPI categorizes the ranked countries into eight geographical regions. Regional SPI scores offer a broader perspective for the analysis of global social progress. Evaluating regional SPI scores unveils patterns of convergence as well as inter/intra-regional disparities.
Significant disparity in social progress across the regions of the world is observed. While North America (85.0 points) and Europe (80.2 points) outperform other regions, South Asia (58.4 points) and Sub- Saharan Africa (50.8 points) are obvious laggards.
Most regions are lacking in the component of inclusiveness. It is a particular bottleneck for Middle East & North African countries.
Generally, regions with higher income countries have higher average social progress with marginal difference in SPI scores – Middle East Arabian countries being a striking anomaly. Regions with lower income countries have noticeably higher disparity in social progress.
Although in the past decade social progress has not receded in any of the regions, improvement has been more dynamic in 2011-2017 than in 2017-2022.
The eight geographical regions used with SPI are represented in the map below. The regions are inspired by the World Bank country classification; however, they have been adjusted to better reflect the convergences in social progress indicators 1 . For the purpose of regional SPI representation, we mainly depart from the World Bank classification pertaining to consideration of Europe and Central Asia & Caucasus as separate regions.
The average regional SPI scores for the eight global regions are depicted in Figure 1. North America, which consists of only two countries (United States and Canada), outperforms all other regions with an average SPI score of 85.0. It is followed by Europe with a score of 80.2. Interestingly, if only the European Union countries are considered, the regional SPI score for the EU is 85.3 — right above North America. From scores of above 80 for North America and Europe, there is a substantial drop to 69.0 for the next highest scoring region i.e., Latin America & Caribbean followed by East Asia & Pacific (66.3), Central Asia & Pacific (65.9), Middle East & North Africa (61.0), South Asia (58.4) and the lowest scoring region Sub-Saharan Africa (50.8). For context, the world average SPI score is 65.2.
Acute disparities in SPI score within the regions are also observed; particularly so for the Middle East and North Africa with scores ranging from 83.2 for Israel to 39.1 for Yemen and for Sub-Saharan Africa with a difference of 44.7 in the best (Mauritius) and worst (South Sudan) performing countries. North America, Central Asia & Caucasus and Europe exhibit the least disparity in SPI scores, in that order.
Similar regional trends can be observed in average dimension scores, with North America leading other regions across all three dimensions, followed by Europe. Central Asia & Caucasus and East Asia and Pacific perform exceptionally well in the Basic Human Needs dimension but not so much across other dimensions. Similarly, South Asia has a reasonable score in Basic Human Needs dimension but performs poorly in Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity dimensions. Middle East & North Africa is particularly impaired in the Opportunity dimension. Conversely, Sub-Saharan Africa is lacking across all dimensions. Overall, compared to other dimensions, almost all regions need specific improvement in the Opportunity dimension.
Figure 3 unravels the component scores for all regions and provides insights into how regions compare across each component as well as the overall performance of all regions across components. Overall, regions perform worst in the component of Inclusiveness with all regions having sub 70 scores and the lowest score of 28.1 for Middle East & North Africa. South Asia, East Asia & Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia & Caucasus all score 40 and below in Inclusiveness. Regions do not fare much better in the Personal Safety component with regional scores ranging from 77.8 (North America) to 50.2 (Sub-Saharan Africa). Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly weak across almost all components and is especially lacking in the components of Access to Advanced Education, Water & Sanitation, Shelter and Access to Information & Communication. South Asia also scores poorly across several components and the lowest of all regions in Environment Quality. Conversely, North America and Europe are leaders across most components.
As evidenced also by Figure 4, Inclusiveness is a particular bottleneck in the improvement of social progress across most regions. Sub-Saharan Africa also needs to focus on Access to Advanced Education and South Asia on Environmental Quality.
Figure 5 highlights the relationship between GDP per capita and social progress. Both share a strong and positive, albeit non-linear relationship whereby at lower income levels, small differences in GDP per capita are associated with large improvements in social progress. This is particularly true for most Sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries which are clustered in the third quadrant of the graph with a high gradient implying significant improvements in social progress with minor improvements needed in GDP per capita. As countries reach high levels of income, however, the rate of change slows. A case in point is Europe with most countries having high GDP per capita and even a substantial increment in GDP per capita can only be associated with marginal improvement in social progress. Most European countries fall above the trendline which indicates that they generally have above average SPI for their level of GDP per capita. European countries have a small range in SPI scores, however they have a large range of GDP per capita. The opposite is true for Sub-Saharan Africa. Arab Middle Eastern countries are distinct outliers and have particularly low social progress for their level of GDP per capita hence most of these countries are anchored well below the trendline. Prior discussion on the components which the region is lacking on, offers some explanation. Conversely, countries in the Latin America & Caribbean have higher levels of social progress despite having much lower GDP per capita.
The relationship between social progress and income is explored further in Figure 6 which depicts the region-wise social progress against the income group. Barring a few exceptions, higher income levels correlate with higher social progress and it is true for all regions. Figure 6 also highlights the disparity in income and social progress within the regions. Countries in regions including Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East & North Africa and East Asia & Pacific have acute disparities in social progress.
Temporal Shifts in Social Progress
Figures 7 and 8 illustrate the regional trends in social progress since 2011. Over the past decade, social progress, on average, has not receded in any of the regions. Although, regions with above average social progress including North America, Europe and Latin America & Caribbean, have not made any substantial improvement in social progress since 2011, in fact social progress in North America has marginally declined since 2017. Conversely, regions with lower levels of social progress have made more significant improvements since 2011. South Asia is the most significant improver followed by Sub- Saharan Africa, East Asia, Pacific, Central Asia & Caucasus and Middle East & North Africa.
Generally, for the regions, improvement in social progress has been more dynamic in 2011-2017 than in 2017-2022. Regardless, social progress across the world is converging over time as the range of average regional SPI score has reduced from 41.3 in 2011 to 34.2 in 2022.
The regional analysis provides a broader insight into how inherent regional factors play a key role in determining social progress of a region and hence, in the disparity of global progress. The regional analysis has allowed us to identify inhibiting factors commonly plaguing the countries of certain regions. The regional perspective also brings to notice, the countries that have particularly low progress in a region which can be useful in isolating specific bottlenecks.
We highlight the localized strengths and weaknesses for the regions and identify inclusiveness and personal safety as particular impediments to elevating global social progress. This recognition paves the way for concerted policymaking through regional cooperation. To this end, regional social progress could also facilitate regional prioritization for international development organizations and the alignment of their objectives and focus areas with the shortcomings of particular regions.