There was no golden age: social mobility into cultural and creative occupations

Brook, O., O'Brien, D. & Taylor, M. (2018) SocArXiv 27 March 2018. [ONS LS]

Other information:

Cultural and creative industries are currently narrated as one of the greatest forces for openness and social mobility that Britain has (Hancock 2016). However, there is little, if any, evidence to support this position. Recent research has suggested the creative and cultural occupations are dominated by those from professional or managerial backgrounds (O’Brien et al 2016, Oakley et al 2017), with cultural theorists arguing this reflects declining rates of social mobility over time (Banks 2017). This paper provides the first empirical assessment of claims made by policy and cultural theory concerning changing patterns of social mobility into cultural and creative occupations. We use the England and Wales Longitudinal Study, along with three birth cohort studies, to offer the first analysis of social mobility into cultural and creative occupations over time. We demonstrate that: cultural and creative occupations have always been characterised by overrepresentations of those from privileged social origins, with little evidence of a classless meritocracy; rates of absolute social mobility are declining in these occupations, contradicting policymakers’ faith in a ‘meritocracy’ for talented individuals aiming to work in artistic and cultural jobs; this decline in absolute levels of social mobility is in contrast to the stability in relative social mobility, indicating there was no ‘golden age’ for social mobility into cultural occupations. These three points illustrate the importance of occupational perspectives on cultural and creative industries and the value of sociological analysis for public policy questions in this area. In particular, the lack of social fluidity in the occupations producing culture is a key issue for future public policy intervention. The paper concludes with suggestions for future research on longevity of cultural careers and the importance of gender using the Longitudinal Study dataset.

Available online: SocArXiv
Output from project: 1008121


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