New Zealand is the most socially advanced country in the
world, according to a Washington-based think-tank.
The Social Progress Imperative, whose advisory board is led
by Harvard economist Professor Michael Porter, has put New
Zealand first out of 130 countries based on 54 indicators of
The country tops the world on indicators of personal rights
and freedoms, and comes in the top four for water and
sanitation, access to schooling and tertiary education, and
tolerance and inclusion of minority groups.
It scores a low 28th on nutrition and basic medical care
partly because of a relatively high death rate for women in
childbirth, 35th for health and wellbeing partly because of
high obesity and suicide rates, and 32nd for ecosystem
But Auckland obstetrician Dr Sue Belgrave, who chairs a
national committee on maternal mortality, said the country's
high death rate for women in pregnancy and childbirth of 15
deaths for every 100,000 live births was because New
Zealand's figures included deaths from pre-existing
conditions and suicide.
"I'm not saying we are perfect, but what we report is an
accurate reflection of what is happening in our system. We
don't think that's happening in other countries," she said.
New Zealand ranked in the bottom half of the 130 countries
for suicide (76th behind the best) and obesity (115th). But
other countries also had low scores on enough indicators to
drag them below New Zealand's overall tally of 88.24 out of a
maximum score of 100.
Switzerland was close behind with 88.19 points, followed by
Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway. Australia came tenth
with 86.10 points.
The United States was 16th with 82.77 points, scoring in the
bottom half on ecosystem sustainability (69th) and on health
and wellness (70th), again partly because of a high obesity
The index is the latest of many attempts in recent years to
develop better measures of national wellbeing than the
traditional gross domestic product (GDP), which has been
widely criticised for measuring only what can be counted in
dollars. For example, New Zealand's measured GDP is rising
rapidly at present partly because of the Christchurch
rebuild, but the destruction of the previous buildings in the
the 2011 earthquake did not count as reduced GDP.
Professor Porter is widely known for his books on
international competitiveness, including a 1991 report on New
Zealand's competitiveness which advocated fostering
"clusters" of internationally competitive firms.
Think-tank director Michael Green, a London-based economist
and author of Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the
World, said New Zealand's placing as the world's most
socially advanced nation contrasted with its 25th place in
GDP per person.
"In terms of converting economic output into quality of life,
New Zealand is doing really well," he said.
AUT sociologist Professor Charles Crothers said he had long
thought New Zealand's low GDP rating was "a bit weird".
"We have quite a low GDP per capita in the OECD ranking, but
the reality of living in New Zealand is beyond what it looks
like in the standard of our homes, education, health and so
on. We are firing well above that," he said.
He said it was surprising that Professor Porter's index left
out indicators such as the employment rate and income
inequality, but it was a fair reflection of the things it did
"There are no nasty divisions," he said. "We are a happy
enough lot of hobbits just tagging along without any extreme
hatred or violence."
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said: "This report
is great news and it backs up what we all know - that we live
in a fantastic country."
Labour social development spokeswoman Sue Moroney said New
Zealand's high scored reflected "Labour's progressive agenda"
in building up public health and education over many decades.
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