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Widening the Lens: Social inequality and arts participation

Jun 13, 2023


Widening the Lens: Social inequality and arts participation provides a picture of the socio-economic factors that shape people’s engagement with arts and culture.

Analysing data from the Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research Incorporated’s (ACSPRI) 2019 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA), this report identifies the ways in which income, education, occupation, geography, self-identified class and trust in society interact with cultural participation.

The AuSSA survey presented an opportunity for the Council to tap into an existing survey that explored socio-economic conditions in Australia. The Council included additional questions on arts participation, aligned with those in our National Arts Participation Survey (NAPS), and used these to explore correlations between arts engagement and other social factors in Australia.

The overall trends identified in Widening the Lens align with those seen in NAPS, e.g. the percentage of the population who are engaged with arts, and barriers and motivations to arts participation. However this report also provides important nuance and necessary detail to our understanding of who has access to arts and culture, and why.

This report has been prepared with analytical support from the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra. Over 2023-24, in partnership with the University of Canberra and RMIT, we will explore further insights from ACSPRI’s 2019 AuSSA in a series of four factsheets called Social Factors in Cultural Participation.

  • Almost every respondent – 96% – identified that they were engaging with the arts, either by reading for pleasure, listening to music, attending arts and cultural events and venues, or by making art themselves.
  • A person’s level of arts and cultural engagement increases with higher levels of education. Findings show those with no post-school qualifications had lower levels of participation across each type of creative activity. Those with university qualifications had the highest levels of participation.
  • People in occupations that are generally associated with using more skills, and more complex skills (requiring more formal education or professional training), have stronger rates of arts and cultural participation. These occupations are usually understood to be of higher status or higher socio-economic positions.
  • People with greater household incomes have stronger rates of participation across all arts activities. Low-income respondents had lower rates of attendance, creation and reading, and were more likely to select ‘because it is too expensive’ as their main reason for not attending. Making ends meet is also an important condition for attending arts events or venues and for participating in arts and cultural activities.
  • Those who self-identify as ‘lower class’ or ‘working class’ have significantly lower participation rates across all four creative activity types. Those who self-identify as ‘upper-middle’ and ‘upper-class’ have significantly higher rates of arts participation.
  • City dwellers are more likely to participate in arts and cultural activities than those living in suburbs or regional areas. Almost four out of five respondents living in big cities attend arts events or venues (78%), compared to 70% of respondents who live in outer city suburbs or outskirts, and just over half (54%) who live in regional areas.
  • Those who trust other people are more active in arts participation, particularly in attending or creating.

Social Factors in Cultural Participation is a series of four factsheets based on the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2019. The series is produced through a partnership between Creative Australia, RMIT University and the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre. 

Factsheet 1: Parental Occupational Class  

This factsheet explores the role that parents’ occupational class plays in the shaping the next generation’s participation in arts and culture (as adults).  

Findings support the long-recognised role played by mothers on shaping arts and cultural practices, and provide further detail on how parental occupation class influences the likelihood of cultural attendance, creative participation, and reading for pleasure among Australian adults. 

These insights reinforce the importance of providing opportunities to engage with arts and culture in schools and other public environments, so that all young people have access to arts and culture regardless of their family circumstances.