Cultural elite does not exist, academics claim

The "cultural elite" brought up on opera and the higher arts, which supposedly turns up its nose at anything as vulgar as a pop song or mainstream television, does not exist, according to research published by Oxford University academics.

Researchers have used data from the UK and six other countries to test a theory that people born to posh families absorb only "high culture" while "popular" or "mass" culture is strictly for those from ordinary to humble beginnings.

They found that in truth Billy Elliott the fictional working-class boy from a northern mining village with a passion for ballet is not the social freak he might seem to be. Equally, someone with an impressive ancestry and blue blood coursing through his veins is not necessarily any more cultured than the rest of us.

"We find little evidence for the existence of a cultural elite who would consume 'high' culture while shunning more 'popular' cultural forms," the two Oxford academics said, when their results were published yesterday. "There are certain individuals who fit this description, but they are too few in number to figure in any survey-based analysis."

Tak Wing Chan, from Oxford's sociology department, and John Goldthorpe, of Nuffield College, Oxford, have spent years trying to analyse whether "social status" still exists in Britain, and how it operates.

For this exercise, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, they divided people into four groups univores, who only like popular culture; omnivores, who like everything from opera to soap opera; paucivores, who absorb very little culture; and inactives, who absorb practically none.

People's education, income and social class were all taken into account but this study, unlike others of its kind, clearly differentiated between "class" and "status". An out-of-work aristocrat has class, without status, while there are bright, ambitious people from poor backgrounds who have "status" but not "class".

In previous studies they have concluded that status is now determined more by the work someone does than by their birth or their wealth. Office workers consider that they have a higher status than manual workers; among office workers, professionals think themselves a cut above works managers, and so on.

The newspaper a person chooses, and the forms of entertainment that person enjoys are all tied up with ideas about social status. That does not mean that professionals in elite jobs restrict themselves to "elite" arts, but it does mean that the opera houses and specialist art galleries are likely to be filled with people who have "status".

Class, as opposed to status, does not seem to have much effect on cultural tastes. "A substantial minority of members of the most advantaged social groups are univores or inactives," the researchers found.

Doctor Chan said: "Our work shows 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."

Data from the UK, Chile, France, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands and the US was analysed by 13 researchers during the study.

Which are you?

Univores

If you will go to the cinema, but not the theatre, you are a consumer of popular culture only. Two thirds of the population are in this category.

Omnivores

Will try anything on offer. Most have jobs that give them confidence, but could be from any social background.

Paucivores

People who consume a 'limited' range of cultural activities. Enjoy some form of music, film or television but not art galleries.

Inactives

These people access nothing at all people who would never go into an art gallery or stop to examine a sculpture.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones