Although beset by economic woes and intractably high unemployment rates, European countries -- at least by one ranking -- are still among the best places to live.
This new metric, the Social Progress Index, developed by noted Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter and a team of researchers at the Skoll World Forum, lists countries by their ability to provide basic human needs and freedoms to their citizens. Among the criteria are access to nutrition and medical care; air and water quality; communications and information infrastructure; higher education opportunities; and personal freedoms.
Based on this assessment, four out of the top five countries are European, with Sweden coming in at No. 1. The United States ranks sixth, and the top North American country is Canada, at No. 4. Burrowing down a little more deeply, some interesting data anomalies arise. For example, while the U.S. spends the most per capita on health care, it ranked 16th in the foundations of well-being category (which includes life expectancy, number of cancer cases, CO2 footprint, availability of quality health care, literacy rates and broadband availability). Not surprisingly, the U.S. rated first in the opportunity category -- which includes such criteria as personal freedoms, freedom of choice and access to higher education, among other things.
And while Spain’s unemployment rate hit a record high -- 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013 -- the country ranked tenth in the overall Social Progress Index -- which is evidence, the authors of the study say, that economic numbers alone are not a clear-cut measure of quality of life. Indeed, Porter has written extensively about the potentially positive impact of strategic approaches to social needs on economic growth.
Despite annual GDP growth of more than 7 percent for the past decade, China ranks 32nd in this study, one place ahead of Russia and well below the median.
At the bottom of the list, all but two countries -- India and Bangladesh -- are in Africa. Many of these countries score well in terms of opportunity -- particularly personal rights, equality and inclusion -- but rank poorly in terms of basic human needs.
Only two African countries ranked above the bottom ten: South Africa and Botswana.
Check out this map of the 50 countries in the Social Progress Index, color-coded by rank. Green indicates a higher rank, red indicates a lower rank. Click on any country to see its overall rank and its rank by specific parameters like “shelter” or “access to higher education.” Please refer to the key below the map for further explanation.