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Personality traits of people living and working within regions impact on economic success

The culture and personality traits of people living and working within a city or region can influence its economic success by combining to determine the potential for human agency – the capability to act and make a change – according to new research.

People around a table with a city in the background
The research explored how a combination of personality and culture can influence economic success in a region

The study by Nottingham Business School (NBS), part of Nottingham Trent University, and Cardiff University explored how innovation, entrepreneurship, education and skills – key levers of economic development – are unevenly spread across regions and cities in the UK and Europe, and what might explain the persistent differences in the distribution of these resources.

Analysis revealed that London and the South East top the list for the types of human behaviour and agency that lead to economic success, comparing favourably to other English regions such as the North East and West Midlands. Of the devolved nations, Wales and Northern Ireland are missing out on untapped human resources compared to Scotland.

Several sources of existing data were used, including analysis of large surveys on people’s attitudes and beliefs to find out the extent to which they feel they are able to influence other people or outcomes in different spheres of life, such as politics, labour (work)/entrepreneurship, and the environment.

Findings indicate that particular combinations of personality and culture determine the extent to which people take opportunities that can be associated with improving their positions in life and the places in which they live and work, for example accessing training, taking on supervisory roles or engaging with innovation.

Deemed as human agency potential, the researchers found that this capability to act in certain ways is an important predictor of economic development. Areas with higher levels of particular forms of human agency have proportionally more individuals who perceive they can undertake the tasks required to succeed and influence others in power.

In particular, where more individuals felt able to play a role in the political sphere (political human agency), this was associated with greater entrepreneurialism and innovation.

Piers Thompson, Professor of Local and Regional Economic Development at NBS, part of Nottingham Trent University, said: “This form of human agency is particularly associated with undertaking activities that lead to greater responsibility and economic impact, such as creating jobs through business ownership. In addition, the benefits of human agency extend beyond financial or economic returns, with those displaying higher levels being more satisfied with their social and working lives in general.”

When looking at political human agency, the cities and regions of Europe were found to have significant differences compared to those in the UK, with locations in Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia displaying higher levels.

Within UK regions, London topped the table for political human agency, while the South East did so for labour and entrepreneurial human agency among its citizens. Northern Ireland and the West Midlands both perform less well than all other regions in each of these spheres. Of the devolved nations, Welsh citizens appeared to be less confident in being able to undertake positive behaviour successfully compared with those in Scotland.

Human Agency Potential for UK regions in different spheres of activity

Political Rank



Labour/ Entrepreneurial






South East




South West








Yorkshire and Humber




East Midlands




North West




East of England








North East




West Midlands




Northern Ireland



Robert Huggins, Professor of Economic Geography at the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University, said: “It is no surprise that human agency for the political sphere is highest in London and the South East. It is, however, a little surprising that the existence of the Welsh Government is yet to yield increased feelings of political human agency, in contrast to Scotland.”

While the research reveals how cities and regions can benefit from generating higher levels of human agency within their population, it can be difficult to achieve in the short-term.

Professor Thompson added: “The evidence relating human agency to the underlying culture and personality profile of a place makes it hard to achieve any change quickly, as these are passed on to children and reinforced through mechanisms such as migration. However, if both local and national authorities can create an environment where people are able to participate and influence the decisions that affect their lives, this will not only encourage activities that ultimately lead to a more dynamic city or regional economy, but have a positive effect on wider well-being.

“It is particularly important that communities that feel excluded from the ‘elite’ are reached. These communities can be cities or regions that are more distant from the seat of power in London, or it can be neighbourhoods and groups within cities and regions who feel helpless to change their position and lot in life.”

The findings of the research are explored in the new publication A Behavioural Theory of Economic Development: The Uneven Evolution of Cities and Regions by Robert Huggins and Piers Thompson.

  • Notes for editors

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

    A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2020 National Student Survey, above the sector average of 83%.

Published on 29 January 2021
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School