Measuring economic & social human rights

Our five economic and social human rights metrics are constructed from internationally comparable, publicly available, objective data, such as statistics on infant mortality and school enrolment. Our metrics show how each country is doing – on each of the five rights – relative to what is feasible for a country with that level of economic resources.

Economic and social human rights ensure that all people have access to the basic goods, services, and opportunities necessary to survive and thrive.

In international law, they can be summed up as discrimination-free access to an adequate standard of living, dignified employment, a minimum basic income, comprehensive health care, and extensive educational and cultural opportunities.

With a strong presence in the Universal Declaration and the core international human rights treaties, economic and social rights are equal in status and importance with civil and political rights.


What is unique about these measures compared with other indicators of economic development?

Our measures are based on methodology that is unique in this area. It allows us to show how well the state is using its available resources to ensure all people enjoy these rights. We do this because under international law, a higher level of performance is expected from richer countries.

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative’s (HRMI’s) economic and social rights fulfilment measures are the only measures that:

  • Show how well each country is doing relative to what is feasible for a country with that level of economic resources.
  • Allow cross-country comparisons in rights fulfilment.
  • Provide an objective assessment of whether the overall situation regarding each economic and social right in a country is improving or deteriorating.
  • Provide a methodology to examine disparity in rights fulfilment between regions, or between racial, ethnic, gender, and other population sub-groups.

Check out this introduction to our economic and social rights methodology on YouTube.


Our measures of economic and social rights

At this time, HRMI’s economic and social rights measures capture the fulfilment of five economic and social human rights:

Each of these is constructed from internationally-comparable, publicly-available objective data, such as statistics on infant mortality and school enrolment. They also take into account the fact that, as stated in Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), each country is obligated to progressively achieve economic and social rights “to the maximum of its available resources.” Essentially, this means that better performance is expected from richer countries.

Statistics such as school enrolment and infant mortality can help to tell us the extent to which individuals in each country enjoy economic and social rights. But it is not until the country’s GDP per capita is also taken into account that we can get a good sense of whether a state is complying with its obligations to progressively respect, protect, and fulfil those rights. These measures do just that.

This methodology, the Social and Economic Rights Fulfilment (SERF) Index, has been developed by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Terra Lawson-Remer, and Susan Randolph at the University of Connecticut. This approach is highly regarded by the human rights community. In 2016, a book detailing this methodology – Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Terra Lawson-Remer, and Susan Randolph – won the American Political Science Association prize for the best book in human rights scholarship, and in 2019, the three authors were awarded the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

For more information you might like to watch Susan Randolph’s TED talk on measuring economic and social rights or read our detailed methodology handbook.


What data are available, for what years, and where can I find the data?

Measures for these five rights have been calculated for around 200 countries, depending on the right, going back 10 years. You can access them on the Rights Tracker website. The SERF Index Project also publishes these social and economic rights data on its website.


Using our beta calculator

We have developed a calculator tool so users can find scores that use our methodology for other sets of data using the same indicators.

For example, if you have access to data on a particular ethnic group’s rates of stunting or primary school enrolment, you can use the calculator to produce a score that you can compare with the country score we produce.

It is currently in beta, and we would appreciate your feedback.


Population statistics

How many people would benefit if a country lifted its performance?

When a country is not meeting its obligations, and is scoring lower than 100% for a right, there will be a certain number of people who are missing out, whose lives would be improved if their country lifted its score.

Anyone can calculate these figures using population data, and the information on the Rights Tracker. We are seeking funding to be able to provide these calculations on the Rights Tracker for every country.

In the meantime, we have begun to provide these population statistics for some countries, such as India, in our Country Spotlights.



Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko, Terra Lawson-Remer and Susan Randolph. 2015. Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights. Oxford University Press.