ECONOMIC wealth doesn't necessarily translate to improved social
conditions, according to a recent "world report card on social
"The theory in the past has been that social development follows
on the heels of economic development," says Richard Estes, a
professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work in
But Professor Estes, who has studied world social progress for 20
years and produced two previous "report cards," points out that some
very rich countries lag far behind in social development.
Although the United States has the largest economy in the world,
it ranks 18th on Estes's "report card." And despite relatively
stable economies, the African nations of Kenya, Senegal, and
Zimbabwe have declined dramatically on the social index during the
past two decades.
Social development is measured by a nation's ability to meet the
needs of citizens through such services as health care and
education. Using 46 indicators ranging from the rate of population
increase to the percentage of people sharing the same mother tongue,
Estes ranks 124 countries around the globe.
Denmark takes the No. 1 position, followed by 12 other European
countries. Japan follows as No. 14. Ethiopia takes last place, just
behind Mozambique, Angola, and Chad.
"Much of the development worldwide has been focused on increasing
the gross national product," says James Billups, a professor of
social work at Ohio State University in Columbus. "The
infrastructure for human and social development is not given much
attention compared to economic and political development."
The report card on social progress is an effort to measure
quality of life; only six of the 46 indicators measure economic
Since Estes began collecting data in the 1970s, net social gains
have been slim. Although many countries committed themselves to
social development in the '70s, that progress was largely eroded
during the 1980s, Estes says. "Despite the tens of billions of
dollars and (many) hours of technical assistance provided to
developing countries, the decade of the '80s was basically a wipeout
from a social-development perspective," he says.
Estes characterizes the overall record on global social progress
as "dismal." A number of factors contribute to the situation:
Worldwide economic problems. While the economy doesn't dictate
the whole picture, Estes says, high rates of inflation and
indebtedness can certainly have a devastating effect. …