Overview 2021

The SERF Index

Under the International Covenant for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, ICESCR, countries are obligated to devote the maximum of their available resources to progressively realize the substantive rights enumerated in the Covenant.  Thus, measuring the extent to which a country fulfills its economic and social rights obligations under the ICESCR requires considering the level of rights enjoyment in the country relative to the level of the country’s obligation.  The International SERF Index uses socio-economic statistics like school enrollment and child mortality rates to gauge the extent to which rights-holding individuals enjoy each of five economic and social rights—the rights to health, education, food, housing, and work.  A country’s level of obligation is specified using an innovative approach that maps Achievement Possibility Frontiers, APFs. APFs benchmark each country’s level of obligation by relating countries’ per capita GDPs with countries’ performance on socio-economic statistics reflecting economic and social rights enjoyment. The benchmarks reflect the best observed performance of countries over the past several decades at each per capita income level. The basic SERF Index methodology rigorously assesses countries’ fulfillment of their obligations with regard to a specific social and economic right aspect as the percentage of the benchmark level achieved. Country scores on different aspects of a particular right are then averaged into a right index. Country scores on the resultant component right indices reflecting the different substantive rights are then averaged to yield the composite SERF Index.

Country scores on the International SERF Index, as well as the component right indices and right aspects broadly speaking show the percentage of the feasible achievement obtained by the country concerned at that country’s per capita income level.  A low score means a country is not fulfilling the right or right aspect concerned to the extent possible at its per capita income level.  A score of 100% on a right or right aspect does not mean everyone in the country enjoys the right or right aspect; it means the country is doing as well at ensuring the right as the historically best performing countries at that per capita income level; it is meeting its immediate obligation under the ICESCR to fulfil the right to the “maximum of its available resources”.  In the case of a very poor country, the score on the right or right aspect can be quite high even though the enjoyment level of the right or right aspect is quite limited.  A country achieving a score of 100% cannot rest on its laurels.  All countries are obligated to progressively fully realize the rights enumerated in the ICESCR.

Data constraints coupled with the different right challenges in high income countries versus other countries have led to our creation of two separate assessment standards.

  • The “low and middle income” assessment standard holds countries to a basic level of rights fulfillment and is most relevant to low- and middle-income countries;
  • The “high-income” assessment standard holds countries to a higher standard more relevant to the right challenges facing high-income countries.  Both variants of the SERF Index  are computed for all countries  with the required data. The technical note below describes the construction of both variants of the SERF Index in greater detail.

Download International SERF Index Technical Note 2021 Update

The 2021 SERF Index Update provides SERF Index scores for 12 separate years; 2007 through 2018 and can be downloaded here or at the SERF Index data tab. The 2021 Update incorporates several changes beyond those in the 2020 Update. First, given the availability of new International Comparison Project data ensuring comparability of income per capita data across countries, all achievement possibility frontiers (APF) used to benchmark country obligations have been re-estimated using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita data measured in 2017 PPP$. Second, for the high-income assessment standard we have switched to a new data source for housing affordability that better captures the full cost of housing. Specifically, the indicator is the percentage of the poorest quintile of the population living in households where the total housing cost (‘net’ of housing allowances) represents less than 40% of disposable income (‘net’ of housing allowances). Third, for low- and middle- income assessment standard the 2021 Update measures contraceptive prevalence using “modern methods” rather than “any methods” to better capture access to reproductive health care.

Both the low- and middle-income and the high-income variants of the International SERF Index are calculated for all countries with the requisite data and the series are comparable across countries and years but are not comparable across variants. Researchers can evaluate countries with the available data on either assessment standard.

  • The low-and middle-income international SERF Index covering all five component rights is available for all years 2007 through 2018 and covers 105 countries and up to 90 countries in any given year (the exact number depending on the year). The Component Right Indices cover 196 countries and up to 192 countries for any given year and right (the exact number depending on the right and the year).
  • The high-income International SERF Index covering all five rights can be calculated for 28 countries for the years 2015 through 2018. The high-income right to food index can only be calculated for the years 2015 through 2018 while all the other high-income Component Right Indices can be calculated for the full period 2007 through 2018. At least one high-income Component Right Index is available for at least one year for 144 countries while for any given high-income Component Right Index data are available for between 34 and 108 countries (depending on the right).

When computing a country’s score on a right or right aspect, the most recently available data on a given right enjoyment indicator (and the per capita income data for the corresponding year) is used. However, because the surveys providing many of the indicators on rights enjoyment are not conducted annually, the data used for each year are not always unique. For example, in the case of the Right to Education Index score for Cameroon, the 2017 and 2018 series use data on the net primary school enrolment rate in 2017. If the most recently available data on an indicator is more than 10 years prior, the score for that right aspect is recorded as “missing”, and so too is the score for the corresponding Component Right Index and variant of the International SERF Index. The 2021 Update data sets including the individual indicator performance scores as well as the Component Right Indices are incorporated into the downloadable excel files and can be accessed both below and on the 2021 data tab.

Download 2021 International SERF Index data

The older SERF Index updates, the 2011 update providing SERF Index scores for 2008, and the 2012 update providing SERF index scores for 2009, the 2013 update providing comparable data covering the 2000 through 2010 period, the 2015 SERF Update providing comparable data for the 2003 to 2012 period, the 2017 SERF Update providing comparable data for 2005 to 2015, the 2019 Update providing comparable data for 2006 to 2016, and the 2020 Update providing data for 2007 to 2017 are now outdated.    However, they have been retained for the convenience of researchers still working with these older data files, and can be downloaded from the “Data Archives” tab by clicking on the 2011 Downloads, the 2012 Downloads, the 2013 Downloads , the 2015 Downloads,  the 2017 Downloads, the 2019 Downloads, and the 2020 Downloads, respectively.

SERF Index Historical Trends 1970 – 2010

Have countries progressed or regressed in meeting their commitments to fulfill economic and social rights? The SERF Index has been estimated for countries with internationally comparable data spanning four decades. The Core Historical SERF Index covers all countries except the high income OECD countries.  Two variants of the Supplementary Historical SERF index are available, one spanning the four decades and a second incorporating data on the quality of education but only spanning the last two decades because comparable international data on the quality of education are not available for the 1970s and 1980s.

The Core and both variants of the Supplemental Historical SERF Index as well as the component right indices from which they are aggregated can be downloaded through this data portal in both pdf and excel formats.

Download SERF Index Historical Trends

Due to data limitations, some indicators were substituted in constructing the trend data. A technical note describing how the construction of the SERF Index Historical Trends differs from the International SERF index is available through this portal and should be read in conjunction with the Technical Note on the International SERF Index Methodology above.

Two variants of the Supplementary Historical SERF index are available, one spanning the four decades and a second incorporating data on the quality of education but only spanning the last two decades because comparable international data on the quality of education are not available for the 1970s and 1980s.

The Core and both variants of the Supplemental Historical SERF Index as well as the component right indices from which they are aggregated can be downloaded through this data portal in both pdf and excel formats.

Download Technical Note on SERF Index Historical Trends.pdf