If we're going to play the word association game with "heavy metal," immediate responses would probably veer towards "dark," "sad" and "working class." But according to a new study from City Lab and the Martin Prosperity Institute, one should also consider "wealth" and "high quality of life."
The new report notes an interesting association between a country's socioeconomic status and number of metal groups, and is based on a map released back in 2012, which tracked the number of heavy metal bands per 100,000 residents. That study found that while the genre has become less popular in places like America and the U.K. (where it was ostensibly born and raised), metal remains popular in areas like Canada, northern Europe (Germany in particular), and especially Scandinavia — relatively affluent areas that put a premium on high quality of life and government-funded social programs.
As it turns out, these factors, especially a country's wealth and affluence, are associated with the number of heavy metal bands in a given country. As author Richard Florida writes: "The number of heavy metal bands per capita is positively associated with economic output per capita (.71); level of creativity (.71) and entrepreneurship (.66); share of adults that hold college degrees (.68); as well as overall levels of human development (.79), well-being, and satisfaction with life (.60)."
While metal may stereotypically remain a staple for members of a disaffected working class, the study notes that "it enjoys its greatest popularity in the most advanced, most tolerant, and knowledge-based places in the world." And though Florida is quick to note that "correlation does not equal causation," the relationship between socioeconomic factors and metal music does make a lot of sense. These wealthy nations not only have the media outlets and consumers necessary to help such a genre thrive, but they can provide young musicians with the tools necessary to become competent players — something quite crucial in a technically difficult genre like metal.
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