NZ most socially advanced country

KATIE KENNY
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2014

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New Zealand is the most socially advanced nation in the world, according to a new global index published today.

New Zealand topped the Social Progress Index (SPI) of 132 countries ranked on social and environmental performance by the US-based nonprofit, the Social Progress Imperative.

"New Zealand's ranking as the most socially progressive nation on Earth is is an exceptional result," Social Progress Imperative executive directive Michael Green said.

The top five countries in order were New Zealand, Switzerland, Netherlands, Iceland, and Norway.

The SPI defined social progress as: "The capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential."

Eighty years after gross domestic product was first conceived, SPI was designed to offer another - more wholesome - way to measure national performance.

Green said the researchers had decided to exclude GDP so it could be compared with social progress.

Under three main categories - basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity - 12 components, further split into 54 indicators, determined overall ratings.

New Zealand ranked first overall in opportunity, and had the best score in 20 components, including measures of homicide, corruption, religious tolerance, personal freedom and choice, secondary school enrolment, and press freedoms.

The result was particularly impressive in the context of New Zealand's "relative economic weakness" compared to countries that finished much lower on the SPI, Green said.

"People always say it's going to be the Scandinavians who come top, and they have done well," Green said.

"But what's striking about New Zealand's result is that it has only the 25th GDP in the world. Per capita, that's half of Norway's. On half the income, NZ can show higher social progress than Norway."

New Zealand did not have any specific weaknesses on the SPI, Green said, but its lowest scoring indicator - at 115th globally - was obesity.

New Zealand also ranked poorly in suicide - 76th globally.

Green said the project highlighted where there were data gaps, such as violence against women.

"One of the things we want to highlight as part of this report is that we're using the best available data that's globally comparable. But there are data gaps."

SPI allowed individual countries to benchmark themselves against peer countries, both at the level of individual indicators as well as overall.

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"If you want to be a successful country, it's so much more than economic growth," Green said.

"If we drive our world on GDP alone, we're going to miss so much."

See the full report here.

Key global highlights:

* The top five countries in order of ranking are: New Zealand, Switzerland, Netherlands, Iceland, and Norway.

* Canada is the best performing G8 country.

* Brazil is the top of the BRICS, followed by South Africa, Russia, China and India. Apart from Brazil, the BRICS are all significant under-performers on social progress, suggesting that, for China and India in particular, rapid economic growth is not yet being converted into better lives for their citizens.

- Stuff

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