SCOTLAND'S arts and creative industries are worth £3.2 billion to the country's economy, a new study has found.

The report, for Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, also says between 84,000 and 130,000 people work in the cultural sphere north of the Border.

The report shows the arts and creative industries are of greater value to Scotland's economy than life sciences, worth £3.1bn, and not far behind tourism, on £4bn. However, its contribution to the total is less than half that of financial services, which is worth £7bn.

The study, by DCResearch, Cogentsi and Pirnie, shows software and electronic publishing is the largest employer in the creative sphere, followed by the writing and publishing industries and the heritage sector.

Glasgow and Edinburgh account for 40% of the total employment in the arts and creative industries, and there are around 12,000 businesses in total, although a third of these are in computer games and software and are often micro- enterprises.

The study estimates the arts also generate an additional £3bn in "indirect impacts", specifically in the benefits to various businesses that supply and service the cultural sector.

Andrew Dixon, chief executive of Creative Scotland, said: "Scotland's talent is recognised worldwide and valued at home for high-quality work and the joy that a vibrant cultural life brings to our communities.

"For the first time, the impact that Scotland's arts and creative industries has on the nation's economic well-being can now be set alongside these other achievements and is further proof that Scotland thrives on creativity."

The report admits accurately tracking exactly who and how many people work in the arts is difficult, especially with the "portfolio" lifestyle of many arts freelancers: it says another 21,000 jobs exist outside the defined arts and creative industry sectors but could still be called creative.

Other geographical areas also record higher than average levels of employment, including the Borders – where textiles and fashion are important – Orkney for crafts and heritage and Shetland for textiles and heritage.

The report may prove to be a useful tool for Creative Scotland, and the Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, when it comes to arguing the case for the arts in the next Scottish Government spending review, due in 2015.

Some of the figures in the report may appear surprising: it lists only 400 people employed directly in music and only 800 in visual art, with only 200 in computer games, one of the most vibrant and successful sectors of Scottish industry.

However, many of the computer game jobs are in the software/electronic publishing category (employing 19,100 people) and in the music category, and the figure is regarded by the report's authors as a "considerable underestimate" of those working in music, which has been reported elsewhere as close to 10,000.

Venues are classified under performing arts rather than music, and this is the industry where the largest number of musicians sampled reported themselves as working, as well as sectors, for example in education, which are not officially considered part of the creative industries.

Ms Hyslop said: "This welcome report, in our Year of Creative Scotland, highlights the significant economic benefits generated by Scotland's arts and creative industries – overall, amounting to 130,000 jobs and £6.3bn gross value and £12.5bn in turnover.

"The creative industries is one of the seven priority sectors in the Scottish Government's economic strategy."

Linda McPherson, the director of creative industries at Scottish Enterprise, said: "We welcome the results of this study, which helps us understand more about the sub-sectors which offer the greatest potential for economic growth.

"We'll continue to collaborate with our partners to identify how we can support these sectors to grow further, and particularly to encourage our companies to invest in their growth and maximise the international opportunities the growing global creative industries sector offers."