Australia world’s 10th most socially advanced country

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Australia world’s 10th most socially advanced country

Global quality of life index shows GDP is far from being the sole determinant of social progress

Australia ranked 5th globally for ‘health and wellness’, despite obesity rates among highest in world

Ecosystem sustainability Australia’s main weakness

Mixed results on education, particularly for women

13 April 2015: Australia is the world’s 10th most socially advanced nation according to the Social Progress Index 2015 published by US-based nonprofit, the Social Progress Imperative, and released at the 2015 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Measuring a country’s social progress outcomes, the Index identifies those areas in which Australia is over and under performing compared to nations with a comparable GDP per capita.

Australia scores well on ‘personal rights’ (2nd globally only to New Zealand) which encompasses measures including ‘freedom of speech’, ‘freedom of movement’ and ‘political rights’. Australia also scores well on the measure of ‘health and wellness’ (5th), finishing behind Peru (1st) and Iceland (2nd), but ahead of the UK (27th) and the US (68th). This impressive ranking is thanks partly to a high life expectancy– on average Australians will live to over 82 (the 7th highest country for life expectancy globally).

However, Australia underperforms on the measure of ‘shelter’ (19th globally), thanks partly to the poor quality of its electricity supply and decreasing housing affordability. Australia also ranks 29th on the measure of ‘access to basic knowledge’ (which takes into account factors including adult literacy rate and primary school enrolment levels) finishing behind New Zealand (3rd) Canada and the UK (both 18th), but ahead of the US in 45th place.

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The Social Progress Index 2015 ranked 133 countries based on their social and environmental performance, using 52 indicators to calculate the final rankings. Across these 52 indicators, Australia finished top or joint top in no less than 17. Australia’s 10th place finish is broadly in line with its economic strength: its GDP per capita of $42,831* is the 12th highest of the countries in the study.

Lynne Pezzullo, Lead Partner of Health Economics and Social Policy for Deloitte Australia, and Office Managing Partner for Canberra, observed that while Australia’s overall ranking should be a cause of pride, there is no room for complacency: “Australia’s ranking as the 10th most socially progressive nation on earth is testament to factors like the exceptional personal rights and freedoms our citizens enjoy relative to other countries and our 20 plus years of uninterrupted economic growth.

“However, to maintain our investment in social progress and wellbeing we need to embrace smarter and more inclusive policy approaches in regards to health and education in particular. While we score 5th globally on ‘health and wellness’ due to Australians’ high life expectancy, we have unacceptable rates of obesity (ranking 113th out of 133 countries) and suicide rates (67th).

“In education, while we rank fifth globally on access to higher education and equal first in secondary school enrolment, we are missing a trick when it comes to educating women, who represent a significant portion of our future workforce. On the measure of women’s average years in school, we only rank 34th and when it comes to gender parity (girls v boys) in secondary school enrolment we are a poor 96th in the world.”

Key Australian findings


  • Australia scores strongly on ‘personal rights’ owing to its top global ranking across indicators including ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘political rights’. ‘Personal rights’ falls within the ‘opportunity’ dimension in which Australia performs consistently well, (finishing 3rd globally). Australia beats all of the Nordic countries on this measure, being beaten only by Canada (1st) and New Zealand (2nd).
  • Australia also performs well in ‘health and wellness’, coming 5th overall. It beats New Zealand into 9th place, the UK into 27th and the US into 68th.
  • With a global ranking of 5th on ‘advanced education’, this is another component in which Australia over-performs its peer countries who enjoy a comparable level of GDP. Australia ranks 3rd globally based on the number of globally ranked universities it boasts (a total of 33) and 8th globally on the measure of the years of tertiary schooling students enjoy (1.3 years).


  • ‘Ecosystem sustainability’ is Australia’s main weakness: a rank of 109 for the indicator ‘water withdrawals as a percentage of resources’ drags its ranking for this component down to 64th - behind New Zealand (34th) and the UK (60th). However, the US (74th) ranks behind Australia. 
  • Australia also performs badly on ‘shelter’ - coming 19th behind the UK (18th), New Zealand (17th), Canada (7th) and the US (6th). This is partly due to decreasing housing affordability (ranked 51st globally)
  • ‘Access to basic knowledge’ is also a stumbling block for Australia, which ranks 29th globally.

Other findings:

  • Australia has a high level of obesity: one in four Australians are classified as obese (113th) according to the researchers.
  • The levels of violent crime (Australia ranks 19th globally) and traffic deaths (14th) push Australia into 11th position under the ‘personal safety’ component. This is ahead of New Zealand in 18th and the UK in 20th positions. 
  • Despite scoring top globally for lower and upper secondary school enrolment, Australia scores just 40th in terms of primary school enrolment.
  • On the 12 components which make up the Index Australia is beaten by New Zealand (5th global ranking overall) in seven of these, with a joint ranking on one (‘both sharing top spot for Water and Sanitation). Although New Zealand and Australia rank first for ‘water and sanitation’, they share that rank with a number of other nations, including Germany, Norway and France.
Key global highlights:
  • Norway is this year’s top performing country, followed by Sweden (2nd), Switzerland (3rd), Iceland (4th) and New Zealand (5th). Though these countries’ social progress scores are very similar their GDP per capita vary widely (Norway $62,448; New Zealand $32,808), showing that higher GDP can help generate higher social progress but it is not the whole story.
  • Canada (6th) is the best performing G7 country and is the only G7 country to show ‘Very High Social Progress’. 
  • Brazil is the top of the BRICS, followed by South Africa, Russia, China and India. Russia has a much higher GDP per capita than Brazil (42nd) and South Africa (63rd) yet ranks lower on the Social Progress Index in 71st. 
  • Sweden (2nd) is the best performing country in the European Union. 
  • The world’s biggest over-performer (assessing SPI result against a group of countries with a comparable GDP per capita) is Costa Rica. The only country in Europe to over-perform is Sweden.
  • The components of the Social Progress Index where the world fares worst are ‘tolerance and inclusion’, ‘personal rights’, ‘access to advanced education’, and ‘ecosystem sustainability’. These are issues where even the more advanced countries can struggle to score highly. ‘Tolerance and inclusion’ and ‘personal rights’ are also less correlated with GDP per capita while ‘ecosystem sustainability’ scores tend not to rise with GDP per capita.

The Social Progress Imperative created the Social Progress Index working in collaboration with scholars from the Harvard Business School (including Professor Michael E. Porter, who chairs the Index’s Advisory Board) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as international organisations in social entrepreneurship, business and philanthropy led by the Skoll Foundation and Fundación Avina, as well as Cisco, Compartamos Banco, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Deloitte Global) and its member firms (Deloitte).

Steve Almond, Chairman, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Deloitte Global), said: “Economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable is important for business and vital for building a prosperous society. The Social Progress Index is a practical guide to directing resources toward the issues that can unlock this growth. For business, the Index is a necessary tool in the 21st century—guiding investment, informing social responsibility strategies and better understanding the impact and purpose of business in society beyond profit—all key in attracting and retaining today’s talent who increasingly want to work for purpose-driven businesses.”

2015 Results

The full, interactive dataset from the Index is available at:
Please note that due to a variety of changes made to this year’s index including the number of countries covered, the 2014 Social Progress Index is not comparable to the 2015 Social Progress Index.

About the Social Progress Imperative

The Social Progress Imperative’s mission is to improve the lives of people around the world, particularly the least well off, by advancing global social progress by: providing a robust, holistic and innovative measurement tool—the Social Progress Index (SPI); fostering research and knowledge-sharing on social progress; and equipping leaders and change-makers in business, government and civil society with new tools to guide policies and programs.

What is social progress?

Social progress is defined as the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens to improve their lives, and create the conditions for individuals and communities to meet their full potential.

*GDP per capita definition

The Social Progress Index uses the World Bank definition: “GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (PPP). PPP GDP is gross domestic product converted to international dollars using purchasing power parity rates. An international dollar has the same purchasing power over GDP as the U.S. dollar has in the US. GDP at purchaser's prices is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources. Data are in constant 2011 international dollars.”

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