Development practitioners worldwide increasingly recognize the importance of informal institutions -- such as norms of cooperation, non-discrimination, or the role of community oversight in the management of investment activities -- in affecting well-being, poverty, and even economic growth. While there have been many country- or region-specific studies that explore relationships between such social development indicators and other development outcomes, there has been less empirical analysis that tests these relationships at the international level. This is largely due to data limitations: few reliable, globally- representative data sources exist that can provide a basis for cross-country comparison of social norms and practice, social trust and community engagement. The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) now hosts a large database of social development indicators compiled from a wide range of sources in a first attempt to overcome such data constraints, at a low cost ( It will continuously expand the power of the database by including new data and variables and by developing new techniques to integrate, enrich and analyze the data to make the best possible use of this rich dataset. The Indices of Social Development (ISD) are based on over 200 measures from 25 reputable data sources for the years 1990 to 2010. These measures are aggregated into five composite indices: civic activism, interpersonal safety and trust, inter-group cohesion, clubs and associations, and gender equity/equality and non-discrimination against women. Not all data sources provide observations for indicators in each country, but together these data sources allow for comprehensive estimates of social behavior and norms of interaction across a broad range of societies, and increasingly with possibilities to track changes over time. The indices allow the estimation of the effects of social development for a large range of countries, broadening the scope for cross-country statistical and analytical work on social development and the relationship with economic development. This paper presents this database, highlight the differences, similarities and complementarities with other measures of well-being, including around income poverty, multi-dimensional poverty, and human development.

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ISD Working Paper Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

de Haan, A., van Staveren, I., Webbink, E., & Foa, R. (2011). The last mile in analysing well-being and poverty: Indices of Social Development (No. 2011-03). ISD Working Paper Series. Retrieved from