The Social Progress Index study was put together by economists Michael E. Porter and Scott Stern of Harvard and MIT universities, and uses 50 different indicators including free speech, political freedom and private ownership rights to measure societal performance based on social and environmental outcome factors.
The study claims to be the first measure of quality of life that is independent of economic factors.
Denmark has made progress on both health and growth during the last year, according to the report.
Access to basic knowledge, information and communications, water and sanitation, and health care are among the factors that can be thanked for Denmark’s positive position on the list, according to the report, which scored Denmark at over 98 percent on a number of categories in these areas.
"Denmark topped the ranking this year. Indeed, the Nordic countries all made it into the premier league of countries with very high social progress. But they don’t have a monopoly. Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and the UK also made it into this top category.,” Michael Green, director of the thinktank, wrote in a press statement.
Other countries with similar GDPs per citizen have made larger strides than Denmark, according to the study.
“Nor is Denmark, as the top ranked country, a social progress paradise. The Index highlights areas where Denmark could and should be doing better, such as on life expectancy, the number of boys dropping out of school and religious tolerance,” Green wrote.
Denmark’s Nordic neighbours also fare well in the study.
Finland takes second place, while Norway and Iceland share third. Sweden is eighth of the 128 countries included in the study.
The report shows that, since the Index was launched in 2014, there has been a small but significant increase in world social progress over that period from 63.19 to 64.85 (on a scale of 0-100). Moreover, the majority of countries – 113 out of 128 – have shown improvement.
But the overall conclusion of the study is that all countries can do better, according to Green.
"The world is making progress but we are struggling to ensure the rights of freedom and tolerance for all,” wrote the thinktank director.
The large gap in quality of life between rich and poor countries is the largest challenge face, according to the report.
But economic growth alone is not enough to ensure social progress.
“The US, the richest member of the G7 in terms of GDP per capita, is seriously underperforming to come in 18th in the world on social progress. Lack of safety, school dropouts, and low life expectancy are part of the story but so too is a slump in performance on tolerance and inclusion since 2014,” wrote Green.