Oxford Study Says Education Drives Participation in Arts


A new study out of the University of Oxford suggests that individuals in the middle class are more likely to participate in the arts due to the level of education they have attained.

According to Dr. Aaron Reeves’ findings in “Neither Class nor Status: Arts Participation and the Social Strata,” a person’s likelihood to play music, paint or act is not as strong related to an amateur or professional interest as to its link to the level of education a person attains.

Of the 78,011 participants, 18% painted or took photography, 9% danced, 10% played music, 2% participated in some form of drama or opera, and 6% were writers, while 22% had not participated in any form of artistic activities.  Reeves adjusted for age, gender, education, and income, as well as the influence of family background

Social status and wealth were not found to be linked to artistic participation.  The study found that those who earned more than $46,500 per year were not any more likely to participate, while people who held higher professional positions were less likely to participate than those with lower professional jobs.  Although Reeves did admit he did not know why this was, he speculates it is because those who hold higher positions have less free time, writes Laura Mallonee for Hyperallergic.

Meanwhile, a person’s educational level was found to be directly related to participation in the arts, as those who held a degree were found to be four times more likely to paint, take photos or play music than those who held no educational qualifications, and five times more likely to dance or be crafty.

Of those surveyed, middle class participants were more likely to take part in the arts, as they were more likely to hold higher educational achievements.  Reeves believes this to be the case because universities offer more access to cultural events while also increasing graduates’ “information-processing capacity.”

Participation in the arts was found to be separate from watching or listening to arts performances, as social class and status were found to hold a higher influence over that.

“Arts participation, unlike arts consumption and cultural engagement generally, is not closely associated with either social class or social status,” said Reeves.  “This result deviates from the expectation — unexpectedly, those with higher incomes are less likely to be arts participants. These results show that it is educational attainment alone, and not social status, that is shaping the probability of being an arts participant.”