By Daniel Wheatley and Craig Bickerton


Does engagement in art, culture and sport have positive effects on our well-being? This research contributes to our understanding of the positive leisure experience, and cultural value, derived from engagement in arts, cultural and sporting activities. Findings indicate that the use or ‘quality’ of leisure time, rather than simply quantity, has relevance in deriving positive experiences, and is indicative of activities which exhibit a number of ‘cultural characteristics’ delivering benefits even when engaged with less frequently.

The public investment awarded to certain leisure activities, specifically arts, culture and sport, may be evidence, in part, of the perceived value of arts, cultural and sporting assets. For example, in the UK the Arts Council of England was allocated £1.04bn of funding for arts and culture for the period 2012-15 (Arts Council, 2013). Meanwhile, substantial investment in sport has been driven by agendas promoting a healthy, active lifestyle. For example, £400m of UK government funding is being invested, through Sport England, into national governing bodies (NGBs) of sports in England between 2013 and 2017 (Sport England, 2013). Using large-scale UK data from wave 2 (2010-11) of Understanding Society, this research sought to find evidence of the leisure experience and cultural value associated with a wide range of leisure activities, comprising 70 activities in total. Empirical analysis, using ordered probit regression, explored the associations between engagement in these leisure activities and four different measures of subjective well-being: (1) reported satisfaction with life; (2) satisfaction with amount of leisure time; (3) job satisfaction, and; (4) general happiness.

Research Findings

The key empirical findings are as follows:

  1. positive leisure experience is derived from participation in arts, culture and sport, evident in greater satisfaction with life and leisure, and general happiness;
  2. the characteristics of arts, cultural and sporting activities are important in understanding their relationship with subjective well-being, including the effects of frequency of engagement;
  3. limited evidence, with the exception of engagement in mild sport, was found of spillovers from arts, cultural and sporting activities into job satisfaction.

In respect of finding (1) the analysis identifies positive associations between satisfaction with life, amount of leisure time, and to a lesser extent general happiness, and those that attend arts events, visit historical sites and museums, and engage in moderate and mild sports. This corresponds with, and extends, previous research in this area, and is indicative of the positive leisure experience derived from these activities. There are some notable exceptions to these findings, however, including visiting libraries and archives being associated with lower satisfaction, although the exact drivers of this relationship remain unclear. Frequency, meanwhile, does require a nuanced interpretation. Those participating in arts activities and sports on a regular basis report greater satisfaction, as outlined in (2). These results are indicative of non-passive activities which require greater personal effort, and/or generate specific cumulative benefits, only delivering positive well-being effects when engaged with frequently. Meanwhile less frequent engagement in more passive activities including visiting historical sites and museums, generates positive leisure experience. Attendance of arts events is found to have a positive relationship irrespective of frequency, perhaps indicative of the general benefit of these leisure experiences. Meanwhile in reference to finding (3), although employment has a negative relationship with leisure satisfaction, no evidence is found of spillover from engagement in these activities into job satisfaction. The only exception to this is regular engagement in mild sports consistent with some of the findings presented by Hecht and Boies (2009). The analysis suggests that while employment status may have a significant relationship with satisfaction with other aspects of life, many leisure activities may not have an effect in terms of job satisfaction. Individuals separate aspects of time-use (including the quality of leisure time). 


The findings correspond with the notion that the use or ‘quality’ of leisure time, rather than simply quantity, has relevance in deriving positive experiences (Wang and Wong, 2011, 1816; 2014, 100), and is indicative of activities which exhibit a number of ‘cultural characteristics’ delivering benefits even when engaged with less frequently. The findings are also indicative of a range of cultural goods, including arts activities and events, museums, historical sites and certain sporting activities, acting as a source of cultural value. A number of these activities exhibit ‘cultural characteristics’ as identified by Throsby (2001) and the analysis suggests they generate positive experiences. Consumption of these activities may then generate a range of benefits (including learning and health benefits), acting as a source of cultural value. It should be noted that, although generating positive leisure experience including spill-over to job satisfaction, the cultural value of certain sports (and other activities) remains questionable due to their inherent characteristics. Moreover, the relative magnitude of the cultural value of the activities considered requires further investigation. Nevertheless, the analysis presented has contributed to our understanding of the impact of participation and engagement in a range of cultural goods including arts activities and events, museums, historical sites and sporting activities, evidencing positive leisure experiences measured empirically with reference to the subjective well-being of UK residents.


Arts Council of England (2013). Investment in arts and culture 2012-15 [online]. Available at:

Ateca-Amestoy, V. (2011). Leisure and Subjective Well-Being. In Cameron, S. (ed.) Handbook on the Economics of Leisure, pp. 52-76.

Hecht, T., Boies, K. (2009). Structure and Correlates of Spillover From Nonwork to Work: An Examination of Nonwork Activities, Well-Being, and Work Outcomes. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14(4), pp. 414-426.

Sport England (2013). Sports we invest in [online]. Available at:

Stutzer, A., Frey, B.S. (2006). Does marriage make people happy, or do happy people get married? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 35(2), pp. 326-347.

Throsby, D. (2001). Economics and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wang, M., Wong, M.C.S. (2014). Happiness and Leisure Across Countries: Evidence from International Survey Data. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15, 1, 85-115.

Wang, M., Wong, M.C.S. (2011). Leisure and happiness in the United States: evidence from survey data. Applied Economics Letters, 18, 18, 1813-16.

This article is based on:

Wheatley, D. and Bickerton, C. (2016). Subjective well-being and engagement in arts, culture and sport. Journal of Cultural Economics. DOI: 10.1007/s10824-016-9270-0.

Author Information:

Dr. Daniel Wheatley is Principal Lecturer in Economics at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University.

Craig Bickerton is Senior Research Fellow at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University.

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