People ride bikes through Copenhagen, Denmark. (iStock)

Americans like to think of themselves as exceptional, so they probably won't take well to this news: According to a new study, we're second-rate.

That's the key finding of the annual Social Progress Imperative, which ranks countries on the well-being of their populations. The U.S.-based nonprofit defines that term broadly, looking at education levels, health and wellness, and tolerance and inclusion. It also looks at national policies, evaluating countries on issues such as personal freedom and environmental quality.

“We want to measure a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended, nor how much the country spends on health care,” the report states.

As is often the case, Scandinavian countries did exceedingly well, walking away with the top four of 128 slots. Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand round out the top 10. The United States came in 18th place, ranking alongside countries in southern Europe and South America.

On meeting its population's basic needs, the United States gets high marks. Americans, by and large, have good access to livable shelters, nutrition, medical care and education. However, our country doesn't do so well on health and wellness (America has a very high suicide rate compared with other countries, lower life expectancy and worryingly high premature deaths). We're less tolerant, and we discriminate more than other places. Our greenhouse gas emissions are higher than in many other developed countries, and our environmental record is worse.

Michael Green, who runs the Social Progress Imperative, told Bloomberg that the United States “is failing to address basic human needs, equip citizens to improve their quality of life, protect the environment, and provide opportunity for everyone to make personal choices and reach their full potential.”

As such, the United States did not make it into the top tier of countries (it was ranked as a place with “high social progress,” not “very high”). There are six tiers overall. The country struggled particularly with “tolerance and inclusion” and “health and wellness.”

Overall, the world is getting better at meeting people's basic needs. The biggest disparities still exist in terms of access to opportunity. Additionally, money is not enough to get you into the top tier. Even nations with similar GDP, “achieve widely divergent levels of social progress,” the report's authors said.

As Bloomberg wrote:

The U.S. may be underperforming, but so is the rest of the world. American progress, like that of other rich nations, has stalled for four years running. Based on overall world GDP, humanity as a whole could be doing a much more efficient job taking care of itself. Tough graders, these social-progress folks.

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