The 2020 Social Progress Index shows Mexico in the top 40 percent of 163 countries studied globally. The index is the most comprehensive measure of a country’s social and environmental performance independent of economic factors, such as gross domestic product (GDP).
Now in its 10th year, the Social Progress Index (SPI) measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens, based on 54 indicators that fall under basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing and opportunity, such as nutrition and basic medical care, access to knowledge, personal rights, personal safety, environmental quality and others.
Mexico ranked 62nd overall this year compared with 7th ranked Canada and 28th ranked U.S. Norway led all countries with an aggregate score of 92.73. Mexico’s score was 73.52. In Latin America, Costa Rica was best with a ranking of 37th and a score of 83.01.
Mexico’s highest component scores were for water and sanitation, nutrition and basic medical care, shelter, access to basic knowledge and environmental quality. On the other hand, Mexico scored poorly on personal safety, inclusiveness, access to advanced education, personal freedom and choice and health and wellness.
Globally, the average score for the nutrition and basic medical care indicator this year was 84.63. Mexico’s score was 92.17. For environmental quality, Mexico’s score of 76.47 was significantly better than the global average of 36.87. But personal safety, a continuing issue in the country, showed a stark difference between the 62.15 global average and Mexico’s score of just 53.07.
After reviewing this year’s SPI, we interviewed Jaime Garcia, the Latin America Director of the Social Progress Imperative who is based in the San Jose, Costa Rica area. The 40-year-old native of Mexico City provided insightful context to this year’s report on Mexico.
“It’s important to note that the SPI measures outcomes, not efforts,” he said. “We are not measuring how much Mexico, for example, spends on education, but rather what the outcomes of that spending are. If you see the GDP per capita of Mexico, we are 57th out of 163 countries, but ranked 62nd overall in social progress. Mexico’s income is not translated into wellbeing or social progress. That is the main issue.”
Mexico has the second largest economy in Latin America after Brazil, Garcia said, but Mexico is not very efficient in transforming economic growth into wellbeing for the country.
“Although Mexico is a relatively rich country with many resources, it is unable to translate that economic success into things that are very basic,” he said. “For example, under-nourishment, access to quality education or even mobile telephone subscriptions. In a lot of basic areas, Mexico is not very efficient in tackling these issues. So, I think Mexico has a disconnect between what government wants, what business wants and society understands.”
Garcia does point out that Mexico has a good health system, perhaps, he noted, even better than the U.S. The country’s health and wellness score this year was 64.77 compared with the global average of 60.88. The U.S. score was 74.66.
“It is relatively easy to improve those areas that mostly require investment,” Garcia told us, “but many of the areas we measure require more than just expenditures. They require behavioral changes. For example, the Mexico ranking for corruption was 129th out of 163 countries, and it has not improved that much over the 10 years we have been doing the SPI. How do you solve this weakness? It has to be on the government’s main agenda. You have to improve transparency, access to information and access to judicial institutions. You also need to change the way businesses behave so they don’t perpetuate the problem by continuing to just give money to obtain services.”
Garcia made the point that about 25 percent of corruption in Mexico is at the lowest level, such as paying a “mordida” to escape a traffic ticket. He said that this micro-corruption in the country adds up to a much bigger systemic problem.
Personal safety in Mexico is a large and visible issue in Mexico. Garcia said, again, it is not a problem that can be solved with money. He said that institutions need to be changed as well as the behavior of the people, which will take a long time.
“Government in Mexico is going one direction and the private sector is going another direction,” Garcia said. “The gap between them is increasing and we are not seeing social progress. I’m not very optimistic if these trends continue. Mexico still has lots of weaknesses that require the support of business and government to work together. Without this conversation between the two sectors, I don’t expect good outcomes from Mexico in many of the key areas we measure.”
The Social Progress Imperative is a global nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that provides data on the social and environmental health of societies and helps them prioritize actions that accelerate social progress. Data sources for their annual report range from large international institutions like the United Nations to non-governmental organizations and global surveys such as Gallup’s World Poll.