The choice of indicators enabling us to understand the world, society etc. and to act on that understanding has always been central to the concerns of the Futuribles journal. These pages have, in consequence, often seen criticism of the limitations of the French statistical machinery (for measuring migration flows, for example, or the integration of population groups of foreign origin) or of human development indicators, such as those used by the United Nations, which do not take sufficient account of social and environmental aspects.
In this article, Florence Jany-Catrice and Rabih Zotti take this debate forward, presenting a social health indicator (SHI) applicable to the French regions (based on a scale measuring inequality and poverty) that was recently trialled by the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. Taking into account the many dimensions that play their part in the social health of an area (education, policing and justice, employment, housing, income, health and social relations), this SHI was applied to the various French regions for 2004 and casts a new light on their levels of social performance. In the main, the urbanized regions come furthest down the scale, whereas others, such as Limousin, emerge as socially successful. Some regions remain at the bottom of the scale whichever indicator is selected. These include Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Languedoc-Roussillon, which are among the stragglers both in terms of income per inhabitant and social health. Generally, however, it was found that good economic health and good social health do not go together systematically.