SAGE Journals: Social Mobility and ‘Openness’ in Creative Occupations since the 1970s – Commentary


Social mobility in the cultural sector is currently an important issue in government policy and public discussion, associated with perceptions of a collapse in numbers of working-class origin individuals becoming artists, actors, musicians and authors. The question of who works in creative occupations has also attracted significant sociological attention. To date, however, there have been no empirically grounded studies into the changing social composition of such occupations. This article uses the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study to show that, while those from more privileged social backgrounds have long dominated, there has been no change in the relative class mobility chances of gaining access to creative work. Instead, we must turn to the pattern of absolute mobility into this sector in order to understand claims that it is experiencing a ‘mobility crisis’….


In Britain there is a longstanding belief that cultural work is meritocratic; that is, it comprises a set of occupations that are recruited on the basis of talent, regardless of social origin. A recent focus on the employment profile of the cultural sector, which shows that those from more privileged backgrounds dominate, combined with political concerns that the UK is in the midst of a ‘mobility crisis’, has shaken this view. At the same time, leading practitioners who were upwardly mobile into creative jobs have lamented the loss of a ‘golden age’ of opportunities for working-class actors and artists that began in the 1960s with the rise to prominence of figures like Rita Tushingham, Michael Caine and David Hockney….”


This article is based on recent research in the United Kingdom but its findings apply in Australia and other counties as well including those where the belief that there is no class system is common but mistaken.


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