Thought Leader Series: Looking beyond GDP

If you could choose the most important factors in determining a country’s wellbeing what would they be? Yes, income is important, but so are health, education, and happiness. This was the question posed to participants in the 2020 GlobeScan-Ethical Markets “Beyond GDP” survey. The study found that 72 percent of people prefer broadening GDP with additional statistics on health, education, and the environment. 

This isn’t the first study to approach a country’s success with different metrics. A 2020 Ethical Markets study found that 85 percent of Brazilians favor the broader measures added to GDP on health, education, and environment, along with 81 percent of Germans, 79 percent of Kenyans, 77 percent of French and British citizens, and 75 percent of Canadians. Only 28 percent of respondents still favored money-focused GDP metrics. 

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Human Development Index (HDI), and the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) also all aim to broaden our definition of success as nations and, although people have demanded these factors be considered for many years, companies and governments are just catching on. 

The correlation between holistic wellness and citizen satisfaction is also strong. Some of the happiest countries in the world such as Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway, also rank in the top 10 for HDI. When countries prioritize well-being factors like health and education and make them available for all citizens, we suddenly see a vast improvement in citizen happiness. We see that it is not money that makes people satisfied, but rather the security and care that money buys. 

Countries today are vast and complex. It is easy to pinpoint problems, but not so easy to come up with solutions to these problems. Expanding our definition of success beyond money to include more diverse wellness factors is a great starting point for figuring out potential areas of improvement, even in developed countries. Especially during the pandemic, this means evaluating health and taking a long hard look at how we care for our most vulnerable citizens. 

The value of using HDI, rather than GDP alone is demonstrated in the world’s happiest countries and demanded by citizens. It is naive to say that money doesn’t play a role in their success, but we need to be more strategic about how we use the income to better the lives of all, rather than a few.

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