New research challenges the notion that there was once a ’golden age’ of social mobility within the creative sector in the UK and reveals deep-rooted class inequalities that have not evolved since the 1970s.
New research conducted by experts from the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh and Sheffield challenges the notion that there was once a ’golden age’ of social mobility within the creative sector and reveal deep-rooted class inequalities that have not evolved since the 1970s.
In Britain, the popular belief is that the cultural and creative industries are meritocratic; that they are recruited on the basis of talent regardless of social origin. However, a recent analysis on the employment profile of the cultural sector shows that those from more privileged backgrounds have always dominated has shaken this view.
Since the 1970s, the proportion of working class people in creative jobs has halved. Data from the Office of National Statistics reveals that 16.4% of creative workers born between 1953 and 1962 had a working-class background, but that had fallen to just 7.9% for those born four decades later.
This tendency led prominent upwardly mobile figures in the industry, such as Julie Walters, Christopher Eccleston, Lennie James and Julie Hesmondhalgh to lament the loss of a ’golden age’ of opportunities for working class actors and artists that started in the 1960s.
Despite these claims, the research done by Professor Andrew Miles (University of Manchester Sociology) and his colleagues reveals that the changes in the socio-economic makeup of cultural sector workers are not a result of increasing social closure. Instead, they reflect changes in the shape of Britain’s - increasingly middle-class - class structure: as the proportion of the working class within the wider population decreases, so does the proportion of people with a working-class background accessing creative jobs. For older generations of creatives from such backgrounds the situation appears to have worsened partly because they are increasingly surrounded by younger peers from the middle class.
Nevertheless, it remains the case that the chances of middle-class children getting a job in the cultural sector rather then elsewhere in the economy are four times greater than for those growing up in working-class homes. If this pattern of profoundly unequal access remains unchanged, it will impact the types of cultural narratives and representations made available to the wider public. With fewer people from working class backgrounds working in the creative industry, the kind of stories that get told are likely to become increasingly disconnected from the experiences and interests of working-class people. The BBC’s struggle to attract younger viewers from less privileged backgrounds already shows this tendency.
The lack of improvement in social fluidity in Britain over the last fifty years is testament to the pervasive structural class inequalities present in the creative sector, in a context where issues of gender and ethnicity also compound inequalities of access. The authors say that attempts to make the arts more open and diverse have not had sufficient impact yet: creating more access courses is not enough, what is needed is deep-rooted reforms in career support and in hiring and promotion practices.
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