The Conference Board of Canada report compares Canada with other developed countries on 16 "society indicators" including unemployment, voter turnout, life satisfaction and economic and cultural yardsticks.
The annual social report card says that while Canada gets good grades in areas such as serious crime and tolerance of diversity, its overall "B" ranking placing it 7th out of 17 countries, is largely due to high poverty rates for children and working-age adults.
It also says the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer people, and the fact that women are often paid less than men for the same work, are additional factors in Canada's less than stellar social performance.
Author Brenda Lafleur says economic growth is put at risk with roughly one in six children living in poverty, and one in 10 adults also falling below the poverty line.
She says the growing child poverty rate — up nearly 20 per cent since the mid-1990s — could put Canada's economy at risk, since youth who don't benefit from the economy are less likely to upgrade their skills through more school.
Lafleur also pointed to signs that income mobility — which netted Canada an "A" grade — is becoming more and more "sticky," meaning children are less likely to out-earn their parents.
But she said poverty rates and the economic and "moral problem" of income inequality are not insolvable problems. She said they can be fixed through public and political will, just as elderly poverty rates plummeted to the current five per cent from 30 per cent three decades ago after it became a national scandal.
"If we want to address a problem like child poverty or working-age poverty, we know we can do it — we just have to work together and actually decide that it is a problem," Lafleur said.
Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland and Austria took the top six spots — all earning "A" ratings in the Conference Board report.
"(Canada's) position below the Nordic countries is not surprising; the Nordic countries have long outperformed Canada," the report stated.
"But our country now also ranks below the Netherlands and Austria," the report said. "Our middle-of-the-pack ranking means we are not living up to our potential."
The United States placed last behind Japan, with both countries earning a "D" rating.
The Conference Board said Canada is a top performer in acceptance of diversity and above average in areas such as life satisfaction, income mobility, disabled income and suicides.
Canada needs improvement in the areas where it is "significantly below average" such as child poverty, working-age poverty, income inequality, the gender income gap, and voter turnout, the report said.