Study: No Such Thing as 'Cultural Elite'

Whether you prefer the opera to catching a flick on a Friday night has little to do with your social class, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Oxford set out to search for evidence of an upper class "cultural elite" that aspires to "high culture" while turning its back on popular culture.

They took survey data from the United Kingdom and six other countries in Europe, as well as Chile, Israel and the United States, and found no evidence of such social stratification.

The study, funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council, took into account the backgrounds of the people surveyed, including education, income and social class. While a person's social class wasn't linked to their cultural tastes, other elements of their background were.

"Our work has shown that it's education and social status, not social class, that predict cultural consumption in the UK, and broadly comparable results were obtained from other countries in our project too," said study team member Tak Wing Chan.

Chan and his colleagues broke people down into different groups in society that "consume" culture (with names based on the classifications biologists use for animal eating habits):

  • Univores: people who have an interest in popular culture only.
  • Omnivores: people who consume the full variety of different types of culture.
  • Paucivores: people who consume a limited range of cultural activities.
  • Inactives: people who access nothing at all.

In the UK, 62.5 percent of survey respondents were univores when it came to taking in the theater, dance or movies, while 37.5 percent were omnivores. For music, 65.7 percent were univores, 34.3 percent were omnivores. For the visual arts, 58.6 percent were inactives, 34.4 percent were paucivores and just 7 percent were omnivores.

Live Science Staff
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