The Queens Arms, 150 Newhall Street, Birmingham (Grade II listed) Photo submitted to the Missing Pieces Project by Brian Mawdsley. © Brian Mawdsley
The Queens Arms, 150 Newhall Street, Birmingham (Grade II listed) Photo submitted to the Missing Pieces Project by Brian Mawdsley. © Brian Mawdsley

The Wellbeing Impact of Cultural Heritage on England's Economy

Heritage isn't just about the past; it's about how it can enrich our lives today.

Research funded by the Culture Heritage Capital (CHC) programme and conducted by Historic England (HE) has revealed a noteworthy connection between our cultural heritage and personal wellbeing.

The research shows that cultural heritage provides a modest but significant boost to our life satisfaction. This finding demonstrates the importance of preserving and promoting our cultural heritage, not just for history's sake, but as a positive influence on our future collective wellbeing.

Internet Explorer 11 cannot display this chart / image. To see it, please use a different browser eg: Chrome or Safari.

Research findings

This study highlights the link between our historic places and our wellbeing. Cultural heritage doesn't just enhance our surroundings; it significantly boosts our personal life satisfaction. [1]

Here's what the research discovered:

  • A link to happiness: individuals residing close to dense cultural heritage areas report higher levels of life satisfaction after controlling for socioeconomic and neighbourhood factors
  • A monetary value on wellbeing: the study estimates that cultural heritage adds, on average, £515 annually to each person's wellbeing across England
  • The national impact: when combined, this translates to £29 billion in enhanced societal wellbeing
  • The role of Grade II listed buildings: Grade II listed buildings, which are more common and visible heritage assets at a local level, are identified as primary drivers of increased life satisfaction. This suggests that the existence and abundance of local heritage, particularly those assets that are more integrated into our daily lives, play a significant role in enhancing wellbeing

Internet Explorer 11 cannot display this chart / image. To see it, please use a different browser eg: Chrome or Safari.

Figure LSCH 2 – Illustrative map of the estimated wellbeing value on average for individuals and total value at the constituency level. Source: Historic England. Hover over the map to see figures for each constituency. 

About these numbers

Combining the experiences of 24,823 individuals from the Understanding Society Dataset with the rich details of approximately 400,000 designated entries from the National Heritage List for England (NHLE), this study uncovers the historic environment's impact on our happiness. By examining the presence of heritage assets within close proximity to individuals' homes, researchers can quantify the wellbeing derived from our rich cultural backdrop.

The research employs a non-market methodology, exploring the relationship between life satisfaction and cultural heritage density. The findings demonstrate that Grade II listed buildings, the more populous and visible heritage assets at a local level, are the primary drivers of life satisfaction increases, suggesting the existence and abundance of local heritage (rather than the presence of rare, exceptional heritage assets) drive higher life satisfaction.

This approach challenges traditional economic models by integrating non-monetary benefits into the valuation of cultural assets. By doing so, this study demonstrates that a rich place-based cultural heritage impacts residents' quality of life beyond individual usage patterns. It highlights the importance of conserving and protecting cultural heritage due to the wider benefits it provides to people, communities, and society at large.

How the study was performed

HM Treasury guidance has recognised wellbeing as a key objective in influencing government decision-making. This particular research project is part of the Culture and Heritage Capital Programme, which aims to demonstrate the value of culture and heritage assets to the economy, society, and the environment through its monetary and non-monetary benefits. This Programme is being coordinated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS), Historic England (HE), Arts Council England (ACE), and other organisations.

The report uses data from 24,823 individuals from the understanding society data across 10,396 Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs). It examined the statistical relationship between life satisfaction and cultural heritage density, defined by the concentration of historically designated assets on the National Heritage List for England. The study estimated the presence of these assets within a 1 kilometre radius around the population-weighted centroid areas, providing an average indicator of where people live within the LSOA. This variable acts as a proxy for the level of cultural heritage – further details on the suitability and drawbacks are included in the full technical report. [2

The study employs cross-sectional regression analysis by coupling this data with geographically located information from the Understanding Society dataset and other sources like the ONS. The results indicate that proximity to historic assets notably increases life satisfaction after accounting for variables expected to influence happiness. Further analysis suggests that this relationship is primarily driven by Grade II listed buildings, which are a more common and visible heritage asset at the local level.

HE then monetised the benefit of the increase in life satisfaction. This is done by understanding the impact of an increase of 1 heritage asset above the medium. The impact is understood in terms of the expected increase in life satisfaction, which can be used to estimate the WELLBY impact in terms of the HM Treasury Green Book. We, therefore, can estimate the average impact of cultural heritage at both an individual level and at different levels of geography. Overall, for England, we found a £28 billion uplift.

Preserving the past to enrich our future

By understanding and valuing the role of cultural heritage in our lives, we are empowered as a society that acknowledges and benefits from the wide array of advantages offered by our historical past. It's not just about a visit to a medieval castle or a stroll through a historic garden; it's about the everyday encounters with our heritage that serve as pathways to wellbeing. Heritage assets are essential components of our collective wellbeing.

Read the report


  1. To do this, it was important to control for a range of factors that we expect might influence wellbeing, these include but are not limited to Income, Age, Relationship Status, Physical and Mental Health, Neighbourhood characteristics and more.
  2. An understanding is taken that while this metric might not be able to fully describe the level of cultural heritage, it is often highly correlated. Given the study nature, on average, this is assumed to even out. Specification tests are considered to test for this; and data is only presented to a level of aggregation not to make an assumption of a small individual geography/asset.