Beyond GDP

Wake, Wolfgang Tillmans, 2001, courtesy Maureen Paley, London


Beyond GDP

To capture societal thriving, new research includes solidarity, agency, and sustainability.

In light of the major challenges the global community is facing today, ranging from post-pandemic recovery to the mitigation of climate change and their various social, political, and economic ramifications, traditional policy strategies that are primarily guided and assessed by their effects on productivity growth and material gain provide an insufficient framework to address the multi-faceted dimensions of these issues. It is essential to recognize that human wellbeing cannot be adequately captured by aggregate economic indicators, such as GDP, and must incorporate the lived realities of humans in their interconnected roles as economic, empowered, and social beings. By turning towards a more holistic and human-centred approach to measuring prosperity, the SAGE dashboard, developed by Dennis Snower and Katharina Lima de Miranda (2020), provides an empirical framework that embraces both the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of prosperity. It consists of four main indexes: Solidarity (S) which captures the human need for social belonging and embeddedness; Agency (A), that is the ability to influence one’s fate through one’s own efforts; Material Gain (G), measured by GDP per capita; and Environmental Sustainability (E) which may be quantified by metrics such as the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). It further differentiates between inward solidarity which covers within-group social cohesion and outward solidarity, capturing citizens’ willingness to cooperate with strangers across cultural and national boundaries. Through the inclusion of the four different SAGE indexes, the dashboard is able to align prosperity measurement more strongly with people’s social needs and purposes as well as individual empowerment against the backdrop of planetary boundaries. Drawing on several major ethical foundations including communitarianism (encompassing citizens’ social needs and purposes, such as solidarity), classical liberalism (centring on individual agency), utilitarian consequentialism as the foundation of traditional economics, and environmental ethics, the SAGE framework is built upon a few fundamental moral values which highlight the importance of normative aspects of wellbeing and serve as powerful instruments for social cooperation and generators of action.

Solidarity- and agency-enhancing policies may have an important role to play next to economic and health policies in national and global efforts to cope with crises such as the pandemic.

Assessing national prosperity with the SAGE dashboard has demonstrated to be a valuable tool to shed light on the wellbeing of societies, for example the differing societal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (Lima de Miranda and Snower, 2022). While all G7 countries underwent similar qualitative changes in GDP and environmental performance during the first year of the pandemic, they diverged markedly in their responses with respect to solidarity and agency. This indicates that the different dimensions of wellbeing are no longer aligned but “decoupled”, calling for policies that aim to “recouple” social and economic progress. Lima de Miranda and Snower point to the importance of this finding as their analysis suggests that societies which are cohesive and empowered, i.e. show high levels of solidarity and agency, tend to be more successful in the containment of the pandemic and the mitigation of its negative effects than those with low levels of the two factors. This is so because the effectiveness of government policy strongly depends on public compliance which in turn heavily relies on social solidarity and agency, reflecting the degree of social cohesion and the extent to which citizens feel empowered to mitigate the pandemic through their own efforts. Inward solidarity thereby unites citizens towards the pursual of a common purpose while outward solidarity ensures public support for multilateral cooperation to address the pandemic and other global challenges. This suggests that solidarity- and agency-enhancing policies may have an important role to play next to economic and health policies in national and global efforts to cope with crises such as the pandemic (Lima de Miranda and Snower, 2022).

Note: Data for inward solidarity is sourced from the Gallup World Poll and represents the percentage of people who respond “yes” to the following question: “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?” The vertical red line depicts the average level of inward solidarity for the G7 between 2009-2020, the dots represent the G7 average by income quintiles, and the whiskers their 95% confidence intervals.

Nevertheless, it is important to take into account that societies are non-homogenous entities whose members are not all affected by national and global crises in the same way. Building onto Lima de Miranda and Snower’s findings on a cross-country level, our research focus now lies on the examination of the within-country distributions of the SAGE indicators with respect to various socio-demographic characteristics, such as age, income, and gender. First analyses on the distribution of solidarity by income group show that the poorest 20% in the G7 member countries had a significantly lower inward solidarity level than richer income groups. This is a matter of concern considering that the poorest members of society also tend to be disproportionally affected by the ramifications of global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. These negative effects might be reinforced due to the absence of a strong social support network consisting of relatives and friends who can be counted on to help in times of need. Unlike the richest income group, the poorest 20%, for example, often do not have the possibility to offset a lack of social support through financial means. This seems to call for policy measures that focus on targeting the poor.

In order to advance the measurement agenda, THE NEW INSTITUTE is initiating further projects in collaboration with a network of international researchers. Such research will include the analysis of distributional aspects concerning the SAGE indicators as well as the mapping of other dashboards such as the SDGs into the four dimensions of the Recoupling Dashboard. This will be guided by the overarching aim of aligning the holistic measurement of prosperity at the micro-level (business) and macro-level (countries) to achieve within- and across-country comparability.

With the help of Antonia Toffert.


Lima de Miranda, K. and Snower, D. J. (2020) Recoupling Economic and Social Prosperity. Global Perspectives. 1(1), 1867. Available from:

Lima de Miranda, K. and Snower, D. J. (2022). The Societal Responses to COVID-19: Evidence from the G7 Countries. PNAS. 119(25), Available from:

Gallup World Poll (2021) Gallup World Poll: Methodology and codebook. Available from:

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