• Denmark tops the World Economic Forum’s new Global Social Mobility Index.
  • 17 of the top 20 most socially mobile societies are in Europe.
  • The US is 27th while China is 45th and India is 76th.

Moving up the socio-economic ladder takes generations, but it happens much faster in some countries.

Denmark ranks top of the World Economic Forum’s new Global Social Mobility Index, which finds the five Nordic nations and parts of Europe outperform the rest of the world when it comes to giving everyone the chance to succeed.

The index reveals there are only a few nations with the right conditions to foster social mobility
The Global Social Mobility Index 2020
Image: World Economic Forum

If you were born into a poor family in Denmark, it would take at least two generations to reach the median income, or three in Sweden, Finland and Norway. In France it would take six generations, and nine in Brazil or South Africa.

The index assesses the current state of social mobility in 82 economies around the world, looking at factors such as healthcare, education, social protection, access to technology, fair wages and work opportunities.

It also estimates the cost of low social mobility in terms of lost economic growth – more than $1 billion over 10 years for China, and more than $850 million for the US.

Counting the monetary cost of low social mobility
The opportunity cost of low social mobility
Image: World Economic Forum

There is huge disparity between the regions: 17 of the top 20 most socially mobile societies are in Europe, two are in Asia (Japan, 15th and Australia, 16th), and one (Canada 14th) is in North America.

Sub-Saharan Africa includes five of the bottom 10 countries in the index.

Within regions, there are also wide gaps between the best and worst performers. The US (27th) and Britain (21st) are lagging behind their peers.

Income mobility across generations
Income mobility across generations
Image: World Economic Forum

Among the major developing economies, the Russian Federation is placed 39th, China is 45th, Brazil is 60th, Turkey ranks 64th, Mexico ranks 58th, India is 76th and South Africa is 77th.

The launch of the Global Social Mobility Report 2020 coincides with the Forum’s 50th Annual Meeting in Davos. This year’s theme is “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World”.

A recipe for social mobility?

The Nordic countries provide high quality and equitable education systems, strong social safety nets and inclusive institutions alongside job opportunities and good working conditions, the report says.

It’s an economic model it describes as “stakeholder capitalism”. In other words, one that takes into account the interests of all stakeholders, rather than corporate shareholders.

“Economies that follow a model of stakeholder capitalism perform better on the index than those focused on either shareholder capitalism or state capitalism,” the report says.

It calls for policies that combine economic growth, social mobility and environmental sustainability, particularly as the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathers pace.

The report urges governments to do more to level the playing field for all their citizens as technologies such as digital platforms, big data and automation continue to reduce demand for low-skilled work while disproportionately rewarding the highly skilled.