11. Social and economic benefits of culture

The Canadian Framework for Culture Statistics (CFCS) establishes a conceptual foundation for the measurement of both the economic and social dimensions of culture. It goes beyond recognizing the economic activity of formal or institutionalized culture to include the informal non-market activity of culture creation and use.

The direct and indirect economic effects of culture are measured by calculating expenditures by consumers on culture goods and services, including purchases of consumer products or spending at activities that charge fees. Economic effects can be studied through a culture satellite account, which allows for a more detailed and replicable means of understanding the economic benefits of the final demand for culture. Economic analysis can measure effects on domestic industries, on the production of specific types of culture products, on trade, and on the occupations that benefit from spending on culture. Producers of culture and artistic products benefit from knowledge of changing trends in consumption in order to maintain and enhance their competitiveness in the global economy. Without the knowledge of the audience or consumer demand, it is difficult to interpret emerging consumer needs, build new audiences and boost sales, a very direct economic outcome.

In addition to measures of the economic impact of culture, the relationships between culture consumption and civic participation, health and well being, and social capital are also of enduring interest. The well-being of an individual may be enhanced by the use of a culture good or service just as the use of the product may also allow the consumer to become more proficient in the use of other culture products; this is defined as an increase in human capital. Consumption of culture may give rise to the creation of bonds among those who have consumed the same type of culture, also called social cohesion. Similarly, the consumption of culture may create social capital, which represents the networks that strengthen communities. In addition, many studies have linked economic and social benefits by suggesting that significant social benefits, such as a sense of national identity or "connectedness," ensue from culture, ultimately resulting in indirect economic benefits.1

Encouraging culture participation is a common strategic direction for many federal and provincial government policy departments. This is due, in part, because of the argument that culture participation makes important contributions to the connectedness of Canadians, the promotion of well-being, the empowerment of citizens, identity formation, social cohesion, value and behaviour change, and community development.

Three basic effects are commonly ascribed to culture participation (Stanley 2005, p. 5-10, 17):

  • Intrinsic effects are inherent in the culture activity itself and are what make us seek out and want to consume culture products, e.g. a sonata entertains and delights. The value of intrinsic effects is captured only partially by the market through the price of their related commercial transactions (the sale of a book or a ticket, or TV commercials).
  • Instrumental effects are useful by-products from culture activity that accrue to the participant, such as music used as therapy for the emotionally disturbed or engagement in culture activities that may keep a troubled youth out of jail. The culture product, in this case, is not used for its own sake; rather it is used to achieve some unrelated goal. Instrumental effects can be subject to a cost-benefit calculus concerning return on investment to determine their value in comparison with other methods to achieve the same ends (e.g., drugs, tutoring).
  • Functional effects reflect how culture can function to sustain and develop society. These effects include, for example, fostering civic participation, contributing to community development, forming and retaining identity, building social cohesion, modifying values and preferences for collective choice, and enhancing collective understanding and the capacity for collective action. These effects, called externalities by economists, are not captured by the marketplace.

It is acknowledged, however, that very little is known about the nature and scope of these effects and much work is necessary before the links can be explained in a coherent fashion.

Many researchers have proposed the need for basic information and analysis that will increase our understanding of the social impact of culture. These include:

  • factors that determine the use of culture products
  • participation rates for culture activities
  • effect of new technologies on culture participation
  • factors that motivate participation in a culture activity
  • factors that are barriers to participation in a culture activity
  • effect of changing demography as a barrier to participation in traditional culture activities
  • relationship between culture and health and well-being
  • the situation of vulnerable populations with regard to culture practices
  • the impact of culture on social integration and the exercise of citizenship

Currently, many of these questions are unanswerable, but the Framework is intended to encourage the development of analytical tools to provide stronger evidence of the social effects of culture. In particular, analysis could support the identification of the social dynamics that contribute to the exclusion, or promote the inclusion, of individuals in society. It could also support research that would identify the ways that cultural capital formation is promoted, and document the linkages between individual and collective benefits of participation.

The Framework can support research to help us better understand the personal, economic, and social impact of participation. A variety of conceptual approaches could be employed including social capital, social cohesion, social participation, civic participation, cultural diversity, the development of identity, citizenship, personal empowerment, social connections, social cohesion, and community belonging. Given the growing importance of culture, and the limited research done to date internationally to understand the value of culture products to the economy and society, the framework has only touched the surface of the demand for culture. More work will be required to expand this conceptual framework as it relates to these concepts and methods of measurement.


  1. Links between social capital and economic performance at the community or nation level have been suggested by Tom Schuller (2001, p. 21).  Additionally, high levels of health and well-being can carry economic benefits for the community and society.
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