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The Social Inclusion Index

An Overview of the 2013 Social Inclusion Index

We created the Social Inclusion Index last year for the fifth anniversary issue of AQ to provide a more nuanced and multifaceted discussion of a topic that is very much on the agenda of policymakers, multilateral agencies and politicians.

Our Index reflected the emerging consensus that social inclusion comprises an institutional, social, political, and attitudinal environment that goes beyond economics and the reduction of poverty and inequality—in much the same way that “sustainable development” (another trendy term) embodies issues, such as the environment, climate change and good governance, that go beyond the traditional notions of development current in the 1960s and 1970s.

At its most basic, social inclusion is about opportunity: it represents the combined factors necessary for an individual to enjoy a safe, productive life as a fully integrated member of society—irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. But because political and social environments aren’t virtuous, any measure of social inclusion must also include the factors that allow for a citizen to express himself or herself to demand change and a reasonably accountable government that will respond to those demands.

This ambitiously humane concept touches on a wide range of factors that can be grouped roughly into inputs and outputs. They encompass, of course, economic growth, social spending, reduction of poverty, access to education and other social services, and access to formal employment. Also included are measures for the respect for basic human, political and civil rights, as well as the extent to which citizens participate in civil society and the perceived responsiveness of government.

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But most of all, they require equal access to and enjoyment of these goods without regard to race, ethnicity and gender. The poor are not homogeneous. Effectively addressing poverty and social inclusion requires knowing who the poor are and, in particular, understanding the overlay of race and gender on access to private- and public-sector goods, and how race and gender influence political participation and popular attitudes of personal empowerment and government responsiveness.

In our second Social Inclusion Index, it is particularly important that we include measures by race/ethnicity and gender for most of the individual-level variables (thanks largely to the data made available to us by The World Bank and Vanderbilt University’s LAPOP surveys) in almost all the countries in Latin America.

Notably, our second SI Index includes three new important variables. The first, financial access, measures individuals’ interaction with the formal banking system based on data compiled by The World Bank’s Global Findex and disaggregated by gender. The second, LGBT rights, is a seven-point scale developed by Javier Corrales, Mario Pecheny and Mari Crook—the Gay Friendliness Index—that measures LGBT rights and protections in all 16 countries in our index. And third, with the help of Jane Marcus Delgado and Joan Caivano, we have included a scale of women’s rights, with five scores that measure maternal death rates, the presence of laws criminalizing sexual and physical violence against women, and women’s political representation, among others.

In all, we have a total of 21 variables. The lack of data for some countries permitted only 10 countries to be measured across all 21. When data were lacking for a country, we rescaled it according to those variables for which there were data. The final index for all countries and for some of the most important variables is in the conclusion, starting on page 58. This year, we also included Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, and Honduras in the scale. In the conclusion, we compare levels of social inclusion with rates of violence.

When we calculated the final index, we did not weight any of the variables; all were given the same importance. The reason, in part, is that in the absence of compelling quantifiable evidence that any one variable correlates most strongly to economic and social outcomes associated with social inclusion, we believe they should be valued equally.

Does that mean we are agnostic on which ones are more important? No. Logic would dictate that some are certainly more important than others (such as economic growth and access to secondary education), but to weight them against the others without any specific evidence for how much would be arbitrary.

Moreover, it would also violate the governing concept of the Index. What we seek to do in the pages that follow is lay out all the possible variables that arguably affect social inclusion. This is intended to be a dashboard presentation of variables that both grounds and broadens our discussion of social inclusion in a way that pushes the limits of how we define development. We are not saying that economic growth or access to secondary school is equivalent to, say, LGBT rights or racial equality in personal empowerment; but can we honestly believe that a country is socially inclusive without them?

None of these variables is easy to change in a year. Many are the result of centuries of discrimination, embedded cultural attitudes and bureaucratic or civil structure. Yet our second iteration demonstrates some notable shifts and changes.

The question is whether these changes will last.

The really good news is the quality of data that is available. When creating indices such as these, the risk is that you measure only what you have data for, while more important variables get pushed aside for lack of data. With only a few exceptions, we have either avoided that or found a compromise. For example, one of the variables in the five-point women’s rights scale should have included reports of violence against women over a set period. Unfortunately, some governments are not forthcoming with that information. So, we scored countries on whether the government provided the data or not (receiving a 0 or a 1). Admittedly, this is less than perfect, but it does provide a critical proxy measure of how seriously governments take the issue of violence against women.

Clear, objective information does matter, not just to policy wonks but to citizens, who deserve to know how their government is performing. Which brings us to the issue of the quality of national data in some countries, and to the countries not included in this survey. We did have some concerns about Bolivia’s data for access to secondary school and poverty, because there was an unusual jump from the previous year; we include that data, but with a warning.

The greatest problems were presented by Argentina and Venezuela. While there were data available for political and civil rights and for the public opinion variables, we simply did not have enough confidence in some of the other data to include either country in the broader index. That’s regrettable, since the governments of both countries have staked their political claims and legitimacy on social inclusion—and arguably, there have been advances in each.

» Explore the 2013 Social Inclusion Index
» Descarga el PDF del Índice en español.
» Watch videos to learn more about how and what we measured
» How did countries rank last year? Access the 2012 Social Inclusion Index