Art and culture are supposed to bring society together. Culture is bad for you challenges the received wisdom that culture is good for us. It does this by demonstrating who makes who and consumes culture are marked by significant inequalities and social divisions.

The book combines the first large-scale study of social mobility into cultural and creative jobs, hundreds of interviews with creative workers, and a detailed analysis of secondary datasets. The book shows how unpaid work is endemic to the cultural occupations, excluding those without money and contacts. It explores unequal access to cultural education and demonstrates the importance of culture in childhood. The book looks at gender inequalities, analysing key moments when women leave cultural occupations, while men go on to senior roles. Culture is bad for you also theorises the mechanisms underpinning the long-term and long-standing class crisis in cultural occupations. In doing so it highlights the experiences of working-class origin women of colour as central to how we understand inequality.

Addressing the intersections between social mobility, ethnicity, and gender, the book argues that the creative sector needs to change. At the moment cultural occupations strengthen social inequalities, rather than supporting social justice. It is only then that everyone in society will be able to say that culture is good for you.

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Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

The conclusion draws together the overall themes of the book, looking at individual experiences of inequality, the problem of shared experiences that obscure structural inequalities, and the long-term and long-standing nature of inequalities.

The conclusion defends the book’s project of making inequalities visible in order to tailor appropriate solutions. Making inequality visible suggests the need to develop appropriate theories of inequality and culture. The book concludes by thinking through what strong and weak theories of culture and inequality might look like, and what solutions they might suggest to the problems we have made visible in our analysis.

Ultimately the conclusion restates the value of culture, and the need to challenge inequality so that everyone can experience the way that culture is good for you.

in Culture is bad for you
Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

Money matters. Chapter 6 analyses the role of economic resources, economic capital, in access to cultural jobs. It focuses on experiences of unpaid work. Unpaid work seems to be endemic to cultural occupations, both as a route to getting in and getting on.

Part of the reason cultural workers are willing to put up with low and no pay for their labour are the joys and pleasures that come from cultural work. At the same time, the chapter shows how what seems to be a shared experience of cultural work is important to keeping low and no pay a type of norm for cultural occupations.

In fact, the shared experience is stratified by age and by class. Class and age reveal very different experiences of unpaid work. Older creative workers were much more likely to have the creative freedom described by their younger, middle-class origin, colleagues.

Middle-class origin younger people experienced positive aspects of unpaid work. For those with the right sorts of resources associated with middle-class origins, it gave them creative freedom, as well as routes into high-profile work. For those without such resources it was often just exploitation.

in Culture is bad for you
Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

Inequalities in cultural production and cultural consumption begin very early in an individual’s life. This chapter analyses survey and interview data to understand how access to culture in childhood might influence getting in and getting on in cultural occupations later in life.

The chapter introduces the concept of cultural capital, the cultural resources that help some people feel at home in cultural, and other professional, occupations.

The interview data illustrates a theme that runs throughout the rest of the chapters. What seems to be a set of experiences shared by all cultural workers actually hides significant differences. The differences in childhood experience of, and access to, culture reflect social inequalities. In particular social class is crucial in determining who gets access to cultural resources. These include music, drama, poetry, and dance, along with books and libraries. Differing levels of cultural capital, in the context of our unequal education system, mean that the absence of a level playing field for cultural occupations begins very early in life.

in Culture is bad for you
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Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

We usually think of culture as a good thing. Arts organisations and governments tell us that culture has a range of benefits for individuals and for societies. This is in addition to the value of culture for its own sake.

However, culture is closely related to a range of social inequalities. There are inequalities in the workforce for cultural occupations. There are inequalities in the audiences for arts and culture. Culture also plays an important role in relation to how social inequality reproduces itself.

This chapter introduces the book, its core argument and themes, and structure. It shows the importance of studying cultural occupations, as a framework for understanding culture and inequality. It also highlights the relationship between the workforce and the audience, demonstrating the consequences of the barriers to diverse and equal representation that is central to the analysis in the rest of the chapters.

in Culture is bad for you
Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

Cultural occupations are marked by significant inequalities. This chapter uses data from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey and the Longitudinal Study to analyse patterns and trends in the cultural workforce. It shows significant exclusions of women, people of colour, and working-class origin people from key cultural occupations. Overall the workforce is not representative of the rest of society.

Moreover, using a range of other datasets, we see that the workforce in the cultural sector is unrepresentative in a range of other ways. The values and attitudes of the cultural workforce are very different to many other occupations in society. Their social networks reflect contacts with other people in cultural occupations, suggesting social closure of the workforce. Finally, our cultural workers recognise inequalities preventing certain social groups from succeeding. However, they are also committed to hard work and talent, meritocracy, to explaining success. Even where inequalities are recognised, this suggests cultural occupations may be slow to change.

in Culture is bad for you
Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

Cultural audiences are marked by significant inequalities. Almost every artform, aside from film, is attended by only a minority of the population. We see significant differences in levels of attendance and participation by class, gender, and race, with geography, age, and disability also influential in shaping the minority who are heavily engaged in formal culture. In contrast, everyday culture is much more popular.

This division is part of how the very idea of culture is marked by inequality. Hierarchies and what ‘counts’ as culture for the purposes of surveys reflect long-standing struggles over what is, and what is not, given legitimacy.

Hierarchy and inequality are clear in the intersectional analysis offered by the chapter. This show that even within the minority of the population who are highly engaged in culture, cultural occupations stand out. Our artistic, literary, media, and performance workers are by far the most committed to culture. This, again, reflects a distance between cultural occupations and the rest of society.

Finally, the chapter shows how these inequalities are present irrespective of the type of data, whether ticketing or survey, used for the analysis.

in Culture is bad for you
Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

Media and policy discussions sometimes make it seem as if there was a golden age for social mobility into cultural occupations. This chapter interrogates that idea. It shows how social mobility has been a long-standing problem for cultural occupations. First the chapter discusses the key theories of social mobility, differentiating the academic and policy uses of the term.

It then uses the ONS-LS dataset to track social mobility into cultural occupations over time. In the early 1980s someone from a middle-class origin had about four times the odds of entering a cultural job, as compared with working-class origin people. These chances were almost the same in the early 2010s.

The static rates of social mobility into cultural jobs suggests three things. First, that cultural occupations share some social mobility issues that are common in other elite professions. Second, that rather than things getting worse in recent years cultural occupations have perhaps always been exclusive and exclusionary. Third, there is a clear need to understand the mechanisms driving this long-standing problem.

in Culture is bad for you
Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

Cultural occupations have long-standing problems associated with a lack of social mobility. This chapter explains how those problems are experienced by cultural workers. In doing so it shows some of the mechanisms by which exclusions operate.

The chapter introduces academic critiques of the idea of social mobility, linking them to the way particular individuals and communities are given value in cultural occupations.

The chapter outlines the idea of embodied cultural resources, or capitals, along with the ‘norm’ of the White, middle-class male, in cultural occupations. This somatic norm helps to explain the negative experiences of cultural workers who are not White, middle-class origin men. The chapter highlights the experiences of socially mobile women of colour, a group who are most likely to face marginalisation and discrimination. In doing so the chapter shows the powerful underlying mechanisms preventing change in cultural occupations.

in Culture is bad for you
Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor

The chapter presents the first analysis of gender and cultural occupations that uses data from the ONS-LS. The analysis pinpoints key moments where women leave the labour force for cultural occupations. In doing so this sets up a more general discussion of gender discrimination.

The academic literature has demonstrated that a variety of gender-based discrimination exists in cultural occupations. Policy and practitioners have focused on parenting. The chapter analyses the impact of parenting, showing how it is a crucial moment for women leaving cultural occupations, but also that it is not the only explanation for gender discrimination.

Women experience discrimination as individuals, suggesting the need for structural solutions to these problems, solutions that have to come from organisations. As the chapter’s analysis of interview data shows, the shared experience of parenting as a problem for individuals obscures the inequalities that characterise cultural occupations.

in Culture is bad for you