The success of local economies: what contribution does social capital make? The case of Northern Ireland

Patterson, Conor (2007) The success of local economies: what contribution does social capital make? The case of Northern Ireland. (PhD thesis), Kingston University,


This doctoral thesis examines the association between social capital and local economic success at the level of the District Council Area in Northern Ireland. A number of challenges have had to be addressed to progress this analysis. "Economic success" has had to be defined as a series of outcomes. These outcomes have each been shown to be sufficiently distinctive to justify their being synthesised into an Economic Success Index which can provide a more comprehensive measure of economic success. "Local' has been defined as the District Council Area in Northern Ireland. That spatial parameter has constrained the data available for analysis. Cross-sectional and time-series data has had to be combined in one analytical framework. "Social capital" has been defined as one of a series of potential economic success inputs. A set of social capital indicators has been identified. In order to put the association between social capital and local economic success into context, clusters of other potential inputs have been identified. Their association with economic success has also been measured. The subsequent analysis of economic success outcomes, social capital and other potential economic success inputs, has revealed how internally complex Northern Ireland is. The region's heterogeneity has been proposed as an explanation for the relatively small number of inputs whose association with local economic success prevailed across enough of Northern Ireland's local economies to be statistically significant. Notably, social capital has been found not to have been associated with local economic success across Northern Ireland as a whole. This is in line with studies of social capital and economic performance at the level of large intra-national regions in the UK, Europe and the US which had found either no association or contradictory and inconclusive sets of statistical relationships. This thesis has analysed social capital and local economic success outcomes at the intra-regional district level. This has revealed that at a sub-regional level in Northern Ireland there was in 2001 a high level of co-terminosity in some areas between the presence of social capital and the attainment of local economic success. In particular, a sub-region of contiguous Catholic District Council Areas has been identified which was economically successful and in which social capital was also highly developed. Other conclusions drawn from this analysis are that: social capital in Northern Ireland was a distinctively Catholic phenomenon; by 2001 the West/East, Catholic/Protestant intra-regional differential in economic success no longer seems to have prevailed; a new geographical disparity appears to have emerged between an economically less successful northern coastal arc and the rest of the region; Catholics overall were more likely to have been living in economically successful areas, a significant improvement in their historic position of relative economic disadvantage; self-employment, which in 2001 was positively associated with economic success, was much higher in Catholic areas than in Protestant areas. The thesis has also generated two potentially important findings in respect of women: The presence of female small business employers was not associated with economic success, whereas women leaving the home to become economically active was. Cause and effect remains an open question in respect of these and other findings. However, at the very least this thesis suggests that the relationship between females becoming employers, females becoming economically active, social capital and economic success is a complex one which needs more research. This thesis unravels some of the complexity of economic success and of the functioning of social capital in a complex region.

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