Anyone invested in the state of the world today is interested in the Social Progress Imperative. The not-for-profit group aims to promote social inclusion and create a universal system by which the advancements and progresses of the world’s nations can be measured - the Social Progress Indicator. The Social Progress Indicator scores countries on a number of different topics, from economic trade and output, to less traditionally quantified activities such as social inclusion, health care and freedom of expression. The group recently published their 2014 findings, and the scoring around tolerance proved particularly interesting.
At first glance the concept of scoring something as intangible as tolerance may seem like a difficult challenge, but there is a great need for calibration of such social statistics. Once a problem is measured and quantified, it is easier to both see the size and scale of the problem, and develop a solution that befits the issue. The basic questions around which the scoring of tolerance is based are as follows: Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs? Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain well being? And is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential? The scoring for tolerance asks us to apply these questions to minority groups in our society, be those ethnic, religious or social.
The scoring on tolerance reveals a lot about our societies and how we live in communities, and those at the top of the ladder demonstrate the ability for modern nations to create societies that are both welcoming and accepting of man’s idiosyncrasies and differences. While no nation is perfect, these countries are striving to create a better community for their citizens and their policies can be pointed to as those which an inclusive nation should strive towards. The figures for each country correspond to the rating they were given by the Social Progress Indicator’s ranking system, graded on a scale of zero tolerance to 100 (fully tolerant). We've taken a look at these ten most tolerant nations in the world to see what it is that makes them so successfully tolerant and inclusive.
10 Netherlands: 75.45
History teaches us that the Dutch have been a tolerant people for quite some time now. During the sixteenth century religious persecutions in Europe, the Netherlands became a safe haven for minority groups. Their acceptance of the increasingly diverse members of the Christian faith during this period coupled with the fact that the Lowlands are to this day a major European trading centre means that the country has cultivated a welcoming acceptance of others. The Netherlands is also a champion of LGBT rights at both an EU and a global level. Within the country, legislation is strong with regards to same sex parenting, gay marriage and prevention of LGBT discrimination or violence. Gay marriage is legal in the country and it is an offence for an official to refuse to officiate at such ceremonies. And to top it all off, they also have those relaxing coffee shops we keep hearing about…
9 Denmark: 76.64
In the recent War on Terror era, a lot has been written about Denmark’s decreasing tolerance and the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment in society. There is no doubt that this worrying trend is a real threat to the fabric of nation, but it should not be forgotten that Denmark still ranks pretty highly when it comes to tolerance overall. The country has one of the smallest gaps between rich and poor in society, a key factor in the Social Progress ranking. In fact, Denmark is one of the richest nations in the world per capita and the well-divided wealth shows that gender, sexual preference and indeed religion are not hindrances when it comes to earning in the country. In addition to this, Denmark rates highly with regard to LGBT rights and legislation and was one of the first in the world to give women the vote.
8 Sweden: 78.13
Denmark’s northern neighbour comes in next on our list, and with only a bridge to separate the two nations between the cities of Copenhagen and Malmö, it’s easy to see how their outlooks on society may intertwine and overlap. The country’s tolerance, while traditionally demonstrated through a welfare state and a liberal society, has more recently been evident elsewhere: Sweden accepts a high number of refugees, most frequently (at present) from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, although previous waves of immigration have seen asylum seekers come from the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans. While the rise in unemployment in recent months has led to opposition to this immigration policy, the positive result of such migratory trends are clear: Sweden has become a thriving multicultural society, both in their capital of Stockholm and in several secondary cities.
7 Uruguay: 78.33
The violent history that has scarred so many Latin American nations in recent decades means that tolerance is not often a word associated with the region. The exception to this rule, however, is Uruguay who - throughout the turbulence of the twentieth century - has managed to emerge as a secular and tolerant nation. The country’s lenient attitude most recently hit the press with their legalisation of marijuana, but there's much more to this nation than a laissez-faire smoking policy. The nation, when compared to her Latin American neighbours, has a more markedly secular society. More noticeably, Uruguayans enjoy a higher quality of life than many other Latin American nations. A strong healthcare system, high levels of education and a freedom of speech in the media that has even been praised by the UN has enabled Uruguay to rank so highly on the Social Progress Index.
6 Australia: 78.7
Australia is another somewhat controversial entry on the list as the nation has come under fire in recent years for a perceived lack of tolerance. There have been questions surrounding immigration and minority groups - from indigenous ethnic groups to migrants to the nation. Further, the controversy around the treatment of former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard by the media has raised questions over gender equality in the country. Ms Gillard, who was the first woman ever elected Prime Minister in Australia, was subsequently mocked by both MPs in the country and members of the media; she eventually resigned from her position. That said, Australia is a nation built on waves of immigration, from the early stage British settler, to the subsequent flow of British and Irish to the region, and more recently with immigrants coming from Asia and New Zealand all hoping to benefit from Australia’s booming economy. The diverse society these waves of immigration have created, coupled with the tight laws on racism in the country, have established Australia as the sixth most tolerant nation according to the SPI.
5 Finland: 78.74
Another Nordic nation to rank on our list, Finland is a nation that has been both a winner and loser with regards to tolerance of others, which may in part account for the inclusive nature of their society today. Historically ties and conflict with neighbouring Russia saw Finnish people lose out to their Russian counterparts and ethnic differences within Finland too have scarred the region. Since the latter part of the twentieth century however, the nation has established itself and developed a comprehensive welfare system as well as gaining a reputation for a diverse and accepting culture. The nation is currently debating proposed legislation to allow same-sex marriage and although somewhat behind her Nordic counterparts in this regard, the peaceful society and high standard of living enjoyed in the country has brought her up in the list.
4 New Zealand: 82.41
Australia’s next door neighbour may not rank as highly when it comes to their economy, but New Zealand is in many ways a perfect example of tolerance, in particular with regard to ethnic differences. The nation is a rare example of the indigenous culture of a region surviving colonialism and subsequent independence. The Maori customs and culture form a fundamental part of New Zealand’s festivals, traditions and legislation, something rarely seen in other post-colonial nations. There are, however, other minority groups active in New Zealand society and today the nation also attracts migrants from Europe, Asia and in particular China. In addition to this, the nation last year passed a bill introducing same-sex marriage, making it the first in the Asia-Pacific region to do so.
3 Ireland: 84.46
Another perceived anomaly on the list, Ireland is a nation that may show high levels of tolerance, but the nation also demonstrates that tolerance does not necessarily mean equality. Ireland is the only nation in the EU in which abortion is not by law permitted, with divorce laws only being passed in the country in the early 1990s. However, the Catholic Church, which historically played a dominant role in Irish culture, society and national politics, has seen its influence decline dramatically in recent years, allowing for a more open, permissive culture. In addition to this, the peace talks in Northern Ireland have done much to promote a more inclusive, tolerant way of thinking in the country which has allowed for a more multicultural society as Ireland becomes a destination for many migrants and asylum seekers. The nation’s rise as a hotbed for technology companies and innovation has also seen international workers flock to the island nation, greeted for the most part by the typical warm Irish welcome.
2 Canada: 86.79
The welcoming and relaxed nature of Canadian life has long been associated with the tolerance and acceptance of others in society. Less extreme politically and socially than their neighbours in the United States, Canada’s more liberal style of government along with a reputation for a friendly, accepting nature has established this country as the second most tolerant in the world. Indeed, it is in legislation and government in particular that Canada has shown her tolerance, becoming the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy: In 1971, the nation’s plurality of languages, ethnicities and religions became protected by law - something that many nations espouse, but few have effected so comprehensively. On LGBT matters too Canada has been a trailblazer, becoming the third country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage in 2005.
1 Iceland: 88.44
A country as remote as Iceland may not immediately spring to mind when it comes to tolerance, but it would be a mistake to dismiss this northern island nation. While traditionally the country has by virtue of its geography been fairly insular, recent years have seen the nation teach the rest of the EU how to weather national hardship while establishing itself as an exemplar of social acceptance. Iceland for most people is a nation known for its serene landscapes, disruptive volcanoes, precarious banking system - and Björk. Dig a little deeper however and there is a lot more to be found: In 2009 Iceland made history by becoming the first nation in the world to elect an openly gay person as Prime Minister. Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir was the longest serving member of parliament prior to her election and on becoming Prime Minister further demonstrated the nation’s levels of tolerance as it became the first in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. Way back in 1996, Iceland had also been the first nation in the world to introduce same-sex partnerships.
Alongside this forward-thinking and inclusive attitude to the LGBT community, Iceland’s welfare system and protection of the poor have also been viewed as highly progressive. The island nation is no doubt a small fish in a big sea: with a population of only 320,000 it is easy to overlook the nation’s influence on a global scale. But the model of tolerance and inclusion promoted by Iceland’s government is such that they stand head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to acceptance and inclusion of those who, in many other parts of the world, feel marginalised from any sense of community. Iceland, as the most tolerant nation in the world today, is the example for all other nations to follow.