The cultural industries are not meritocratic–now we have good evidence too.

In a recently published paper ‘Are the creative industries meritocratic? An analysis of the 2014 British Labour Force Survey’ (in the journal Cultural Trends) by Dave O’Brien, Daniel Laurison, Andrew Miles & Sam Friedman (Goldsmiths, LSE and Manchester), they reveal the first really useful evidence-based analysis of class and the cultural and creative industries.

The Cultural Creative Industries includes:

Advertising & Marketing
Architecture, Design: product, graphic and fashion design
Film, TV, video, radio and photography
IT software and computer services
Museums, galleries and libraries
Music, performing and visual arts

They suggest that the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) are not really meritocratic, and working class people are significantly underrepresented, they go further and identify the worst industries as music and publishing (with crafts being the most diverse and meritocratic). The introduce the idea of a ‘class origin pay gap’ whereby one’s origin has a determining factor on how much people earn in the Cultural and Creative Industries.

I find this fascinating for several reasons: 1) those working in the cultural and creative industries, usually (or very often) espouse more communitarian political views on the left; this evidence demonstrates that much of this is hot air when considered in relation to opportunities and actual employment practices in this sector. 2) women are significantly underrepresented in the CCI and also 3) that the total workforce population is extremely well educated in relation to the average UK workforce as a whole.

There are also some significant and useful new empirical observations on things like earnings: the highest earners in the CCI are those in advertising, software and computing earning on average, around £900/week. The lowest earners are those in museums, galleries, libraries and in music, performing and the visual arts who earn between about £350 to 400/week roughly. What this does is make plain that those who work in the Cultural and Creative Industries are significantly better paid than the workforce as a whole, giving the lie to those that claim it is always a low earning sector. However, those working in the music industry are not well paid in relation to other industries. Not frankly a surprise given the inequalities in the music industry that continue to be perpetuated despite the seismic shifts in profit sourcing that have come from digitalisation.

They suggest that because of the disparities between some of these occupations, it may well be worth splitting them up for statistical purposes: They show that ‘IT, Software, and Computer Services is by far the biggest employer in the sector, followed by advertising’ and that these occupations account statistically for 53% of the CCI workforce–yet they are significantly better paid than other occupations

Food for thought–not just for those working in those industries, but also for us who stand apart as scholars interested in these occupations, histories and practices. How for instance might music emerge into a more meritocratic space? Is it possible to take any diversity action in industries like music where so much of the employment is short-term project work? Are different genres of music different here? How much potential are we missing out on from highly talented but poor children who don’t have access to tuition, let alone if they do succeed in entering the music industry, only find that they now face a substantial class origin pay gap and gendered glass ceiling?

Personally, I see this as important work which makes a strong argument for disaggregating the cultural and creative industries, I’d like to see a separate statistical accounting for the performing arts, which often use more precarious and short-term work contracts than the more sedentary and stable (and better paid) occupations in advertising, IT, software design etc.

Simon McKerrell.

The article is paywalled, but DOI here:

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