‘Living near heritage makes you happier’

A report by Historic England, supported by the UK's Culture and Heritage Capital Programme, reveals that living near heritage sites boosts happiness, potentially impacting policy. This first-of-its-kind study, showing a positive correlation between the density of historic sites and life satisfaction, could influence budget allocations towards preserving cultural heritage, estimating an individual wellbeing value of £515 annually.

Heritage happyness

A new study, funded by the UK’s Culture and Heritage Capital Programme provides statistical evidence for the benefits of living near heritage. Whilst heritage aficionados may not be surprised by such a result, this is the first time that a study has shown that simply living near historic sites has a positive boost to personal well-being. The study follows on from similar research into the value of participation in sports and proximity to green spaces, further emphasising the value that culture has on societal well-being.

The research combined the density of heritage sites in an area with life satisfaction data, coming to a clear conclusion that places with more historic buildings had happier people. Whilst the boost to life satisfaction provided by historic sites is only moderate, it is valuable and evident. Even when considering for other factors, such as socioeconomic levels, the trend still stood out.

Grade II listed buildings
One key point is that Grade II listed buildings – the most common listing for historic sites in England – are the main drivers of happiness. Rarer but more prestigious Grade I listed sites were, surprisingly, less important to well-being, highlighting the importance of abundance and proximity of historic sites.

“This is the first research to quantify the wellbeing value of the very existence of heritage, whether or not people participate in heritage activities. For example, the value of £515 a year whether someone interacts with the small civic museum or village church, or not.”

Lord Neil Mendoza, Chairman of Historic England and Chair of the Culture Heritage and Capital Board at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

Putting a price on happiness
Measuring the importance of culture has always been a big problem, particularly when pushing for policies. It is, after all, difficult to put a price on happiness. However, this research is the latest to use a recently developed indicator known as WELLBY (Well-being Adjusted Life Year).

Whilst it may seem sacrilegious to assign a monetary value to happiness, these terms are vital in arguing for advocating for policies that put culture first. This is a trend making its way into policies worldwide; New Zealand famously debuted its “wellbeing budget” back in 2017, and although its long term impacts have been debated, it’s a step towards putting people before profits.

In the case of England’s heritage value, the report estimates that the average individual benefit of cultural heritage near individual residences is around £515, with a collective WELLBY value of £29 billion across England. With many councils across the country looking to cut culture budgets to save costs, research like this could help stem the tide and protect the sector.

“People often experience emotional connections with their local heritage, yet the link between heritage and wellbeing is frequently overlooked in economics. This innovative research uses economic techniques to demonstrate that heritage is not just a nice to have; it has significant, measurable impacts on our overall wellbeing.”

Adala Leeson, Head of Social and Economic Research, Historic England

The study ‘Cultural Heritage Capital and Wellbeing: Examining the relationship between heritage density and life satisfaction’, written by Thomas Collwill, was published on the website of Historic England. The report can be downloaded here.

This article was originally published in English. Texts in other languages are AI-translated. To change language: go to the main menu above.