Not available in 2016/17
Assessing Social Progress

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Stephen Jenkins OLD2.29


This course is available on the BSc in Social Policy, BSc in Social Policy and Criminology, BSc in Social Policy and Economics, BSc in Social Policy and Sociology and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Demonstrated familiarity with research methods to at least the level of SA201 (Research Methods for Social Policy) or equivalent.

Course content

The course aims to facilitate student understanding of key issues in assessing social progress. ‘Assessing’ is shorthand for developing a critical understanding of the relevant concepts and their policy relevance, practical issues associated with data collection and monitoring, and the policy implications of different findings. ‘Social progress’ is shorthand for ‘are we getting better off’? There are many potential benchmarks that could be used for answering this question: comparisons with the past, with other countries, or with some absolute standards (e.g. meeting some basic needs). And at the personal level, one might compare one’s self relative to other people within your ‘society’. There are multiple domains that are relevant too: ranging from conventional summary measures such as income to life satisfaction and happiness, employment, health, housing and education. Much information about ‘social progress’ already incorporated in official statistics (from national and international agencies), and in more specialist academic analysis. But other interpretations of what social progress exist and are not routinely incorporated in existing monitoring exercises, and some say they should be. The course aims to reflect this diversity – to critically analyse both existing approaches and others that have been proposed. The course starts with relatively conventional approaches to assessment including macroeconomic indicators such as GDP and cross-national comparisons, income and work, and then considers newer approaches and related measures. The course also considers progress in several specific life domains. For each of the topics considered, the course addresses a specific question relating to social progress. In providing answers to the question, the course considers, from a critical perspective, relevant analytical approaches, data sources and empirical findings, and also discusses policy implications.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

Formative coursework

Two formative essays (one in MT and one in LT).

Indicative reading

Atkinson, A. B. (1995). The Economics of Inequality, 2nd edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Cribb, J., Hood, A., Joyce, R., and Phillips, D. (2013). Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK: 2013. Report R81. London: Institute for Fiscal Studies.

OECD (2013). How’s Life? Measuring Well-Being. Paris: OECD. Available as e-book to LSE members via LSE Library Catalogue. See also 2011 edition. Next edition due October 2015.

ONS (2011) Measuring National Well-Being: Measuring What Matters.

Stiglitz, J. E., Sen, A. K., and Fitoussi, J.-P. (2009). Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Download the report from the link under the ‘European Commission’ heading at


Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (25%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

Classification % of students
First 33.3
2:1 58.3
2:2 8.3
Third 0
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2015/16: 6

Average class size 2015/16: 6

Capped 2015/16: Yes (15)

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information