An installation created for the London Design Festival in 2013. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

A detailed new analysis of three of the world’s top creative industries.

The creative economy—which spans arts, culture, media, design, technology, education, health care, and law—is a key economic engine of advanced nations and cities. We already know a good deal about how creative industries stack up within countries. But, until now, a lack of similar data for different countries has made it difficult, if not impossible, to accurately compare the creative economy across nations by industry and city.

Now, a new report from the U.K.-based think tank NESTA takes a detailed look at the creative industries and cities of three of the world’s most advanced economies: the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. The report, by Max Nathan, Tom Kemeny, Andy Pratt, and my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Greg Spencer, takes on this challenge by comparing the size, growth, and geography of creative employment. The report standardizes its results by comparing U.K. definitions to data for the U.S. and Canada using a common set of industry and occupational codes. The scope of how these researchers define the U.S. creative economy—which includes nine industries that employ 14 million workers, or less than ten percent of the workforce—is narrower than my own, which spans arts and culture, science and technology, and traditional knowledge and professional work and adds up to more than 40 million workers, or a third of the labor force.

Even with this narrower definition, and not surprisingly due to its relative size, the U.S. has the largest creative economy in absolute terms. The U.S. has about five to six times as many creative employees as Canada and the U.K., or about 14 million compared to 2.5 million for the U.K. and 2.24 million for Canada.

But Canada takes the top spot in terms of the share of workers that make up the creative economy, with 13 percent compared to 9.5 percent for the U.S. and 8 percent for the United Kingdom. Canada also has the largest share of creative industries (8.2 percent) compared to 7.1 percent for the U.S. and 5.4 percent for the U.K. That said, the U.K. has the highest intensity of creative employment, meaning that its industries have unusually high proportions of workers in creative occupations, while the U.S. has the lowest.

Canada has the largest share of creative workers in non-creative industries (5.1 percent), followed by the U.K. (3.3 percent), and then the U.S. (2.7 percent), as the table below shows. Furthermore, the U.K. leads in “creative specialists,” or those working in both creative occupations and creative industries. A whopping 52.3 percent of the U.K.’s creative workforce is made up of such creative specialists compared to 37.4 percent in Canada and 27.4 percent in the U.S. And these numbers don’t even account for growth over time.

At the end of the day, all three creative economies excel in their own way. While the U.K.’s creative economy is the smallest, it is also the most specialized. The U.S. has the biggest creative economy, but a dispersal of creative talent across industries and occupations. And Canada—with the largest share of creative economy employment in creative occupations, non-creative industries, and relative to the rest of the workforce—derives the biggest overall benefits from its creative economy.

Leading creative industries

Across all three nations, the largest industry sectors include IT and software; advertising and marketing; publishing; film, TV, radio, and photography; music, performing, and visual arts; and architecture. But there are also differences in the industry makeups of these creative economies. Advertising, marketing, and architecture make up a relatively large share of the creative economies of the U.S. and Canada, while design, film, TV, video, radio, photography, and—perhaps surprisingly—the IT/software sector comprise a larger share of the creative economy in the U.K.

Creative cities

A big contribution of the report is its comparison of creative cities in the U.S. and the U.K. The New York City metro has the largest creative economy by far, with 1.2 million creative jobs—more than twice the size of London’s creative workforce. Of course, the New York metro is substantially larger than greater London. In fact, New York’s creative economy is actually similar in size to that of Greater South East England, which includes London and the South East and Eastern regions. Interestingly, creative economy employment makes up roughly 12 percent of the workforce in both areas.

Leading Creative Economy Cities in the U.S. and U.K.

United States United Kingdom
Metro Share of Creative Employment Metro Share of Creative Employment
San Jose 20.3% Inner London 21.5%
Washington, D.C. 18.3% Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire 14.7%
San Francisco 17.4% Surrey East and West Sussex 12.1%
Austin 15.1% Outer London 12.0%
Seattle 15.1% Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire 10.4%
Provo-Orem, UT 15.1% Bristol and Avon 9.5%
Huntsville, AL 15.0% Hampshire and Isle of Wight 9.2%
Raleigh 14.7% East Anglia 8.7%
Denver 14.7% Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire 8.6%
Bridgeport, CT 14.4% Leicestershire, Rutland, and Northamptonshire 8.1%

America’s leading creative economy centers include tech and knowledge hubs such as San Jose, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin. By comparison, the U.K’s leading creative cities include Inner London, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey East, and West Sussex. Overall, the creative economy in the U.S. is more concentrated than in the U.K. or Canada. In fact, stronger agglomeration economies” in America’s leading cities are a key feature of its creative economy.

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