What does your cultural taste say about your social class?

15 May 2018

Do you prefer rock or opera? Sport or documentaries? Jane Austen or Jodi Picoult? Or both equally? According to a new study based at the University of Western Sydney, your answers are strongly influenced by your social class.  

Funded by the Australian Research Council, Australian Cultural Fields is a joint project also involving researchers from The University of Queensland, New York University and the University Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile.

The largest of its kind, this study investigates how cultural tastes and lifestyles connect with privilege in Australia, with over 1,200 Australians being asked approximately 200 questions about culture across diverse fields, and their knowledge, preferences and kinds of participation in regards to visual arts, sport, heritage, literature, music and television.

Factual information including the person’s age, education, job, income and assets was also gathered and the findings revealed how strongly our cultural tastes — such as the books we read, the music we like, the TV shows we watch, etc. — aligned with characteristics like class, education, age and gender.

Professor David Carter from UQ’s School of Communication and Arts was involved in the project, primarily in the field of literature or books and reading more broadly. 

“Our section of the survey asked questions related to knowledge of and liking for a list of named writers; kinds of books read for interest or pleasure; number of Australian books read; ways of obtaining books; and participation in a range of book-related activities such as visiting bookstores, participating in reading groups, attending literary festivals or similar events, following book reviews or book programs etc.,” he said.

“Results showed that factors such as, gender, education and occupation have a major bearing on our cultural preferences and practise,” he said.

Age also emerged as a key factor for certain kinds of books.

“The results revealed that young people have a very low engagement with specifically Australian books, and that levels of engagement here also increase steadily with age,” Professor Carter said.

“Does this mean that a sense of national identity or participation in national culture is disappearing...or will the younger generation change their reading habits as they mature?”

Participation in cultural activities also proved very unevenly distributed across our society.

“Australia’s cultural tastes and practices are often starkly divided according to occupational status/class and educational background as well as by age and gender,” Professor Carter said.

The results from this large-scale survey formed the basis of a collaboration with the ABC’s series on Class in Australia – specifically the feature on Class and Cultural tastes.

A sample of the questions was used in a quiz featured in an ABC podcast series last month which received more than 650,000 responses from the Australian public – giving them the opportunity to get involved by answering questions about their television, music and literary activities and tastes, and comparing their results with the research project’s findings.

For more information about the Australian Cultural Fields study, please visit the project website. Findings have been published in the journals Continuum and Media International Australia.

Media: David Carter (M) 0423 025 993, (E) david.carter@uq.edu.au or Kristen Johnston (HASS Communications) (T) 3346 1633, (E) k.johnston@uq.edu.au