How do people’s personal attitudes— toward things like religion, gender equality, and science—influence the economy in their region? Most would probably agree that each has some effect on the other, but no one had figured out how to quantify those connections until a team of UC San Diego researchers came along. They’ve just wrapped up a two-year study—and have come up with some astounding findings.
“Instead of using ‘hard’ numbers as indicators, we were looking for better ways to understand these regional outcomes through a ‘softer,’ social understanding,” says Josh Shapiro, director of research and evaluation at the Center for Research on the Regional Economy, who co-led a team of four alongside Extension dean and sociologist Mary Walshok.
Using data that residents had volunteered through surveys, the researchers tallied 16 personality traits, beliefs, and social dynamics, including agreeableness, selflessness, risk taking, collectivism, and neuroticism. Then they employed statistical modeling to see how those factors correlated with income, unemployment, the prevalence of startups, and economic mobility.
Overall, researchers found a high correlation between certain factors, such as trust in science with income mobility, and degree of religiosity with resiliency to crisis. “Places with more appreciation for the sciences tended to have greater incomes and lower unemployment,” Shapiro says. “We hypothesize that this relationship results from better science education, which not only causes people to appreciate science, but also improves their chances of finding higher paying, more secure jobs.”
The researchers’ work was part of a nationwide effort to find new ways to understand economic growth, funded by an EDA grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to Indiana University.
As for San Diego, the region had an unusually high tendency for openness compared to other places. “This finding is positively correlated with the higher number of startups here,” Shapiro says, “and we believe is a reflection of openness to new experience, risk, people, and the inevitable uncertainty associated with being an entrepreneur.”
This story first appeared in UC San Diego Extension's Summer 2019 edition of Accelerate Magazine, produced in collaboration with San Diego Magazine. Read more on the latest from Exension in "Bright Futures" including next generation scientific discoveries, our Women in Leadership program and an initiative teaching STEM-courses to Kumeyaay people in their native languages.
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