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Washington, DC/Gütersloh, 27/10/2011

US Lags in All Areas of Social Justice

World's largest economy ranks 27th among 31 OECD nations

Cover Social Justice in the OECD
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Veit Mette

The United States may still lead the world in the size of its economy, but it performs poorly in a host of areas that make for a socially just country. As a current study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung examining 31 OECD nations shows, the United States ranks near the bottom in six key categories that contribute to a socially responsible market economy. The study's categories are: poverty prevention; access to education; labor market inclusion; social cohesion and non-discrimination; health; and intergenerational justice.

Overall, the United States ranks 27th, ahead of only Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey.

In the individual categories, the United States showed especially large deficits in poverty prevention (ranking 29th), health (ranking 23rd) and access to education (ranking 20th). "Approximately one in six Americans currently lives under the poverty line, and educational opportunities depend heavily on social and economic background," noted Aart De Geus, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board.

The growing gap between rich and poor is a problem throughout the OECD, but income distribution in the United States is among the most unequal of all countries examined in the report. Poverty afflicts 17.3 percent of all Americans, including 22.2 percent of the elderly and 21.6 percent of children. Disadvantaged children in the United States are especially hard hit in educational opportunities. The OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) has highlighted this link by showing that such children are about one year behind their advantaged peers.

In other areas of social justice, the United States performs better, but always in the lower half of the countries examined. The United States ranks 16th in labor market inclusion, 16th in social cohesion and non-discrimination, and 20th in intergenerational justice.

Northern European countries led the study in overall rankings. The five Nordic states - Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland - took the top five spots. Central and northwestern European states ranked in the upper mid-range, as did Canada. They are followed by east-central European and southern European nations. Japan and South Korea ranked in the lowest third, plagued by problems with access to education, intergenerational justice, and social cohesion and non-discrimination.

The report concludes that Scandinavia's good performance shows that social justice and economic development are in no way mutually exclusive.

Contact Person
Headshot of Daniel Schraad-Tischler Daniel Schraad-Tischler
+49 5241 81-81240
Bertelsmann Stiftung International
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Sustainable Governance Indicators 2011

Sustainable Governance Indicators 2011

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