Analysis suggests that Poland is the best country at turning economic growth into the wellbeing of its citizens
Warsaw, the capital of Poland. Photograph: Alik Kęplicz/AP
Poland is outperforming the UK when it comes to education as well as being the world leader in converting economic growth into the well-being of its citizens, according to a new report.
The Sustainable economic development assessment (Seda) by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) measures wellbeing across 149 countries.
Under the education dimension of Seda, Poland got a score of 90 (the best country gets 100 and the worst zero). This was higher than the western European average of 82 and Britain’s 74.
Poland reformed its schooling system in 2009 to introduce compulsory education between the ages of six and 18 as well as statutory entitlement to a year of pre-school.
Poland is ahead of the UK when it comes to teacher-to-pupil ratio and levels of tertiary enrolment. In both of those measures, the UK has been falling behind the average improvement for the rest of the world.
Although its overall well-being score at 71.6 was lower than Britain’s 81.1, Poland also slightly outperformed the UK on the health dimension of the Seda score.
Poland’s improvement in overall wellbeing between 2006 and 2013 was higher than any other country when adjusted for how much each economy grew during that period.
The only area where it stuttered was what the report describes as its “weak” infrastructure, with Poland’s recent performance in this measure lagging behind comparable economies.
Polish ministers were angered last year after UK prime minister David Cameron gave a speech judged to be negatively singling out Polish migrants to the UK.
Douglas Beal, a partner who leads BCG’s global economic development work in the firm’s Public Sector practice and is a co-author of the report, said: “Emigration from Poland continued until 2006-07 when the net outflow stopped. The timing of this goes hand in hand with the improvements in well-being that we have seen.”
Another co-author, senior BCG economics advisor Enrique Rueda-Sabater, said: “It is actually a pretty positive story. They [Poland] are not improving well-being by sending everyone to the UK. Domestic job growth and their performance on our employment dimension confirms that.”
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Norway was judged to be the country where citizens have the best wellbeing in the world followed by Luxembourg and then Switzerland. Singapore was the only non-European country to make it into the top 10.
At the bottom of the rankings was the Central African Republic, with Chad, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranking just above.
BCG also gave a score based on how countries had improved well-being between 2006 and 2013 and at the top of that list were Rwanda and Ethiopia. This partially reflects big steps forward in health for countries in sub-Saharan Africa generally.
Other than health and education, the dimensions analysed by the report are: income, economic stability, employment, infrastructure, income equality, civil society, governance and environment. Across these dimensions, the analysis draws on nearly 50,000 different data points.
Beal explains the rationale behind Seda: “As the world finally emerges from the global recession, policy makers are focusing on how to sustain and accelerate their country’s growth rates. Leaders must now embark upon a new era and actively pursue well-being—not just GDP—as the primary goal.
“They can and should measure well-being, and hold themselves against it. As one of the new leaders in well-being revealed in this year’s report, Poland shows that you don’t necessarily need high GDP growth to improve the lives of citizens, and that countries that focus on well-being seem to succeed on more fronts.”
The report is being released before the conclusion of discussions in September to finalise what targets for economic and social outcomes by 2030 will succeed the Millennium Development Goals.
In his foreword to the report, Nobel prize-winning economist A. Michael Spence said: “To pursue wellbeing effectively, countries need to achieve economic growth that is both socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. The importance of a decisive, broad-based effort in this regard cannot be overemphasised. It is very good and encouraging to see the kind of contribution that this report, developed by strategy experts focused on wellbeing, makes to that effort.”