Do creative and cultural jobs have a class problem? (by Dave O’Brien)

The Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) are often thought of as being exemplars of meritocracy – if someone is talented and hardworking they will do well. However, recently, there has been a great deal of media and policy discussion about the makeup of CCIs, particularly in terms of social class.

The most detailed data on the composition of the creative workforce, for example – provided by Creative Skillset and most recently by the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – lacks any information about class origin. In Are the Cultural and Creative Industries meritocratic?, a paper recently submitted to Cultural Trends, Daniel Laurison, Sam Friedman, Andrew Miles and I try to find out what the reality is. Along with analysis on gender and ethnicity, and building on the ‘class pay gap’ analysis Sam and Daniel have already done, our paper suggests there are clear inequalities in the class composition of those working in the CCIs. This post picks up on one particular aspect of the paper to show how CCIs, based on analysis of the ONS’s 2014 Labour Force Survey, are dominated by those from affluent backgrounds.

We can see this clearly in table 1, which shows how CCIs have larger proportions of individuals from NS-SEC 1 and 2 origins. NS-SEC is the way ONS thinks about social class, with 1 and 2 referring to higher managerial or professional (1) or lower managerial and professional jobs (2).

Table 1: Origins in Creative Industries compared with population & NS-SEC 1 & 2


NS-SEC 1 Origins NS-SEC 2 Origins NS-SEC 3-5 Origins NS-SEC 6 – 8 Origins
Creative Industries as a whole 26.1% 23.9% 32.0% 18.0%
NS-SEC 1 26.4% 20.6% 33.5% 19.5%
NS-SEC 2 18.3% 20.2% 35.9% 25.7%
Population as a whole 14.1% 15.0% 36.2% 34.7%


Note: Weighted percentages based on recommended survey weighting.  All respondents reporting an occupation, aged 23-69 and not in full-time education. N= 1637 for CCIs, and 5491 for NS-SEC 1, 9,614 for NS-SEC 2, and 45,356 for population as a whole.

If there is an over representation of NS SEC1 and 2 origin individuals in the Creative Industries as a whole, this over representation is more pronounced when compared to the rest of the population. For example, those from what might be popularly described as ‘working class’ backgrounds (NS-SEC 6-8) are about 34.7% of the British population, but represent only 18% of the CCI workforce. These findings clearly puncture romantic notions of the CCIs as paragons of merit and accessibility and instead point towards a sector dominated by the children of managers and professionals.

However, we can go deeper into the analysis thanks to the detail offered by the LFS data. Table 2 suggests that the CCIs are in no way a coherent formation in terms of their social composition. Some sectors, such as publishing, advertising, and music and performing and visual art, have a particularly high concentration of those from professional and managerial backgrounds (NS-SEC 1&2) whereas the distribution of the origins of those working in craft, by contrast, is much closer to what is found in the general population. Meritocracy, if it exists in CCIs, is unevenly distributed.

Table 2: Origins for each sector and occupation          
Higher Prof & Mgrs Lower Prof & Mgrs Inter-mediate Occs Routine & Semi-Routine n
Publishing 43.2% 17.7% 27.1% 11.9% 133
Advertising and marketing 30.8% 24.0% 26.3% 19.0% 372
Music, performing and visual art 28.3% 25.0% 32.9% 13.8% 147
Design: product, graphic and fashion design 26.1% 19.2% 33.6% 21.2% 136
Architecture 24.3% 24.0% 38.2% 13.5% 105
IT,software and computer services 22.5% 25.4% 32.6% 19.6% 478
Museums, galleries & libraries 27.8% 24.5% 22.2% 25.6% 43
Film,TV, video, radio and photography 17.2% 35.2% 38.4% 9.1% 117
Crafts 12.9% 14.8% 43.1% 29.2% 106


One striking point about the differing social composition of CCIs is how exclusive the sectors associated with aesthetic production can be. Film, for example draws only 9.1% of its workforce from those with parents in routine or semi-routine occupations; Music has a similarly low number (10%); as does publishing (11.9%). Indeed publishing, has a massive overrepresentation of the most advantaged in the country, with well over a third of the workforce (43.2%) from NS-SEC 1.

DCMS’ most recent economic estimates suggest CCIs are a well performing area of the economy. This makes them highly attractive to policy makers looking for a vision of the future for the British.

In contrast, our analyses show clear and often striking inequalities across and between the CCIs. Introducing class origin raises a number of new and important questions about the particular nature and consequences of inequality within the CCIs. For example, given the dominance of the children of professionals and managers in publishing, what are the implications for English literary culture? What are the implications for the way we think about cultural value if the sector is so unevenly accessible for those from different backgrounds? For those looking to work in those CCI occupations traditionally seen as the most ‘cultural’, such as music, museums and galleries, or publishing, the message from the 2014 Labour Force Survey is clear- if you’re from a working class background you need not apply.

Written by Dave O’Brien


One response to “Do creative and cultural jobs have a class problem? (by Dave O’Brien)”

  1. Calvin Taylor says :

    Interesting but unsurprising. Have you broken the data into age groups? Is it the same picture across the ranges? And, what is the direction of travel? What is happening over time? LFS data will allow you to look at that.

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