Forget GDP. These nations are doing better than the U.S.

social progress world

Forget GDP. The United States is lagging behind in pretty much every other measurement that determines how well off a country is.

The U.S. ranks 16th in the Social Progress Index, which is based on dozens of criteria measuring well-being, opportunities and basic human needs.

The ranking, released on Wednesday, puts Norway on top, followed by Sweden and Switzerland. It was designed to complement traditional economic indicators -- such as GDP.

"GDP tells us quite a lot about a country's progress, but it's definitely not the whole story. Together with the social progress index, it can give us all-around picture of a country's inclusive growth," said Steve Almond, one of the authors and the global chairman of Deloitte.

social progress index

Related: How much do you need to be happy?

The U.S., the world's biggest economy, scores poorly across many criteria and ranks behind countries with lower GDP per capita -- including Canada and the U.K.

It is leading the way in only a handful of measures, including people's satisfaction with affordable housing, freedom of speech, and access to advanced education.

But the U.S. is failing in all health and wellness indicators, which include life expectancy, obesity, suicide rates, and personal safety.

social progress where us stands

The index considers 52 indicators that have impact on the quality of people's lives and their position in society.

Among them are access to water and shelter, well-being indicators like obesity and literacy rates, as well as criteria measuring opportunities, tolerance, and the degree of personal freedoms.

The authors say countries with higher scores are building more prosperous societies and are likely to be better off in the long term.

And while important, the overall economic wealth is not crucial for countries' social progress.

Almond cites Costa Rica as an example. Ranked 28th, it achieves a higher level of social progress than both South Korea and Italy, which have more than twice Costa Rica's GDP per head.

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