Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


Is Wales too caring to achieve economic success?

29 September 2011

Communities in Wales care deeply for one another – more than anywhere else in the UK, but being caring could be the very thing holding back the economy.

A new study by Professor Robert Huggins of Cardiff University and Dr Piers Thompson of the University of Wales Institute Cardiff (UWIC) has found strong links between the culture of UK regions and their economic performance. They show that greater social cohesion in Wales, characterised by high levels of caring, collective action and a general desire for fairness, tends to be associated with poorer economic performance. The most socially cohesive parts of Wales are in the north – led by Anglesey, Gwynedd, and Wrexham - with the least socially cohesive consisting of Cardiff, Neath Port Talbot, and Newport.

The report argues that whilst the prevalent culture across Welsh communities has many virtues, such as being the most ‘caring’ region in Britain, this is often at odds with the cultural traits of more competitive regions. Huggins and Thompson claim that this results in the business culture of Wales being generally ill-equipped to generate an economy with high levels of entrepreneurialism and innovation. They also warn that there are few signs of change, with Wales ranked bottom of an index of British regions measuring how well work and education are embraced across local communities.

The report shows that regions such as those in south-eastern England have cultures that are far more geared toward individualistic gain and less equality driven than Wales. The research suggests that such a culture of individualism better promotes economic growth and personal well-being. In Wales, a culture of caring and collective community is seen as an impediment to growth, as well as being associated with relatively low levels of well-being. The report find that the percentage of the Welsh population rating themselves as very happy is the lowest in Britain at only 40 per cent, compared to more than 60 per cent of the population in regions such as North West England. Also, Wales continues to have the lowest proportion of the population with good health – 66 per cent compared to almost 87 per cent of the population in London.

According to Prof Huggins:
‘From the perspective of government policy, our findings suggest a conundrum: would Wales benefit from a shaking off of its cherished community cultural values to become a more atomistic, individualistic, and ‘less caring’ society? My own view is that we should seek to develop our economy and business culture whilst sticking to long held community values. The social cohesion our communities possess should represent a potential strength, rather than a weakness, which policymakers can potentially enhance as an economic development tool. In fact, some parts of Wales with the most socially cohesive communities are also the most entrepreneurial, so we need to tread carefully when considering how social policies may affect the clear need for long-term economic recovery. If we look further afield small nations such as Sweden and Finland have similar cultural traits and values to those of Wales, but have far more successful economies’.

The report pinpoints historical factors as a key reason why the community culture of Wales has developed its current traits, arguing that such traits have largely evolved in line with the long-term erosion of what was once clearly a ‘work-oriented’ business culture.

The report concludes that the crucial role of learning, education and skilled work in shaping culture and aspirations remains the only real means by which Wales will be able to alter its destiny away from a future that Huggins and Thompson argue is increasingly appearing to be one of irreversible decline.

1. Cardiff School of City and Regional Planning is the largest and most active planning school in the UK and has an outstanding record of academic achievement. Its teaching has been rated as ‘excellent’ and the latest government assessment of research in British universities has reinforced its status as the premier academic School of its type in Britain.
The School plays a leading international role in its fields of expertise and its research has an agenda-setting influence in key debates on the development, management and sustainability of cities and regions.
The School’s research is structured around five large research groups and is leading developments in environment; housing; spatial analysis; spatial planning and city environments; and urban and regional governance.
2. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.
Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.
3. A full copy of the report can be freely downloaded at:

4. The research on which the report is based was funded by Welsh Government via its New Ideas Social Research Fund. The views expressed in the paper are those solely of the authors and do not represent those of the Welsh Government.

5. Professor Robert Huggins presents the report today (29 September 2011) to members of Cardiff Breakfast Club.

6. Further information:
Professor Robert Huggins, Chair in Economic Geography
Director, Centre for Advanced Studies,
School of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University
Tel: +44 (0)29 208 76006