April 18, 2018

Study Finds Class, Ethnicity, and Gender Disparities in British Cultural Workforce

LONDON, ENGLAND—A study led by Create London, in partnership the University of Edinburgh and the University of Sheffield, has found significant class-, ethnicity and gender-based discrepancies in representation in the United Kingdom’s cultural sector. The paper, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, records nearly three hundred hours of interviews with 2,487 creative professionals in a variety of fields including museums and galleries, visual and performing arts, publishing, and media.

Panic!’s lead authors, Drs. Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien, and Mark Taylor, designed Panic!as the “first sociological study on social mobility in the cultural industries,” collating data from the British Social Attitudes Survey from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Office for National Statistics. Panic! began in 2015 as a larger project from Create London and Arts Emergency to examine inequalities and exclusions the creative and cultural industries.

The paper reports that social mobility in the creative sector has slowed since 1981, reflecting a broader trend in British society. Relative to the entire British workforce, the creative industries are defined by a high concentration of workers from upper-middle-class, professional, and managerial backgrounds and an under-representation of workers from working-class origins. Despite this structural imbalance, most respondents to the Panic! survey professed some belief in meritocracy—hard work, talent, and ambition—as necessary to entering and succeeding in the creative and cultural industries rather than the reproduction of dominant social groups. Respondents earning more than £50,000 per year were more likely to believe in meritocracy.

Barriers to entry defined by class are reflected in the sector’s ethnic composition. In museums, galleries, and libraries, less than three percent of employees nationwide come from Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds despite comprising one-tenth of Britain’s workforce. BAME individuals hold less than five percent of professions in the visual and performing arts.

Creative and cultural workers also reported overwhelmingly left-leaning politics and a belief in the industry as “fair.” Despite these dispositions for inclusion and fairness, Panic!found that cultural workers were relatively isolated from people non-creative and working-class occupations and that most culture workers had performed unpaid labor. Women earned an average of £5,800 less per year than male colleagues in similar positions, which accords with the findings of a government study on gender pay gaps released earlier this month.

In June, Create London and Arts Emergency will host an event at London’s Barbican Centre with artist-activist Ellie Harrison to raise awareness among educational professionals and the public-at-large of the social issues evident in the Panic!report. The full report can be found here.

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