For decades, political and economic policies have been built on the promise of helping people do better than the generations before them. But still today, in 2020, the opportunities we get in life remain largely dictated by the socio-economic circumstances we're born into.
That's the finding of a new report from the World Economic Forum, which says that most countries are failing to stamp out historical inequalities that prevent people from realizing their full potential.
In its inaugural Global Social Mobility Index released Monday, WEF found that just a handful of governments — specifically those in Scandinavian countries — have succeeded in laying the foundations for greater social mobility and more prosperous futures for their citizens.
Social mobility refers to the ability for individuals, families or households to move between various socio-economic strata within a society.
The social framework has long been used as a measure of a society's socio-economic progress, comparing outcomes such as a person's earnings versus their parents. However, WEF's new report looks instead at inputs, such as the policies, practices and institutions within a society.
The report comes as leaders gather to discuss key global issues at WEF's 50th anniversary in Davos, Switzerland.
Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland — incidentally some of the world's happiest countries — ranked as the five most socially mobile countries, thanks to their supportive education and employment frameworks.
To conduct the research, WEF benchmarked 82 countries according to 10 pillars deemed necessary for cultivating social mobility. Those included health care, education, technology access, work opportunities, working conditions, fair wages, social protection and inclusive institutions.
In particular, it found that most countries lagged behind in four areas: fair wages, social protection, working conditions and lifelong learning.
Social mobility — or a lack of it — has serious implications not only for individuals, but also for the societies they live, the report noted. While some nations have taken steps to build more inclusive systems, much remains to be done to get the foundations right, according to WEF's founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab.
"The social and economic consequences of inequality are profound and far-reaching: a growing sense of unfairness, precarity, perceived loss of identity and dignity, weakening social fabric, eroding trust in institutions, disenchantment with political processes, and an erosion of the social contract," Schwab.
"The response by business and government must include a concerted effort to create new pathways to socioeconomic mobility, ensuring everyone has fair opportunities for success."
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