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The Index of Social Health

The Index of Social Health, the centerpiece of the Institute’s work, monitors the social well-being of American society. It has been released annually by the Institute (formerly the Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy) since 1987. Like the Index of Leading Economic Indicators or the Gross Domestic Product, it is a composite measure that combines multiple indicators to produce a single number for each year.

The Index of Social Health is based on sixteen social indicators. These are: infant mortality, child abuse, child poverty, teenage suicide, teenage drug abuse, high school dropouts, unemployment, weekly wages, health insurance coverage, poverty among the elderly, out-of-pocket health-care costs among the elderly, homicides, alcohol-related traffic fatalities, food insecurity, affordable housing, and income inequality.

The premise of the Index is that American life is revealed not by any single social issue, but by the combined effect of many issues, acting on each other. In looking at social problems that affect Americans at each stage of life—childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age—as well as problems that affect all ages, the Index seeks to provide a comprehensive view of the social health of the nation.

Click here to view the numerical data as a table.

Most Recent Findings
In 2011 (the last year for which complete data are available), the Index of Social Health stood at 50.2 out of a possible 100—up 1.7 points from the previous year, but still five points below the most recent peak in 2007. This score is the second lowest in the past fifteen years, the only lower score being last year’s 48.5. Overall, between 1970 and 2011, the Index declined from 64.0 to 50.2, a drop of 21.6 percent.

The recent drop in the Index reflects the impact of the economic recession that began in late 2007. Although the recession officially ended in 2009, social indicators usually take longer to recover. It is to be hoped that the slight rise in the Index in 2011 will be followed by broader improvement, once the complete statistics for 2012 become available.

The Index of Social Health is composed of sixteen indicators. Grouped by stage of life, they are as follows: 

Children Adults All Ages
Infant mortality
Child abuse
Child poverty
Weekly wages
Health insurance coverage
Alcohol-related traffic fatalities
Food insecurity
Affordable housing
Income inequality
Youth Elderly
Teenage suicide
Teenage drug abuse
High school dropouts
Poverty, ages 65 and over
Out-of-pocket health-care costs, age 65+

The performance of the indicators since 1970 shows the following pattern:

Progress Lack of Progress
Seven indicators have improved since 1970:
  • Infant mortality
  • High school dropouts
  • Teenage drug abuse
  • Poverty, ages 65 and over
  • Homicides
  • Alcohol-related traffic fatalities
  • Affordable housing
Nine indicators have worsened since 1970:
  • Child poverty
  • Child abuse
  • Teenage suicide
  • Unemployment
  • Weekly Wages
  • Health insurance coverage
  • Out-of-pocket health-care costs, age 65+
  • Food insecurity
  • Income inequality

Click here for indicator Definitions and Sources for 2011 Index of Social Health.