Cultural consumption: a question of taste or of price?
- 1Lack of interest in the main reason for not attending live shows and places of cultural interest, while lack of income is the main reason for not going to the cinema.
- 2In the case of live shows and visits to places of cultural interest, major polarisation occurs between those who never attend and those who attend regularly.
- 3Going to the cinema shows a different pattern, with less polarisation, which is probably due to a greater interest in cinema among the population.
- 4In addition, it is in cinema where the age effect is greatest: if we compare people under 30 with people over 65, the latter have a probability ten times higher of never attending.
- 5Given the high proportion of individuals who state they have not participated in cultural activities, it is important to classify them into two groups: those who never participate and those who do not participate but could have done so if a particular circumstance had been different.
- 6These two groups are very different and so the effectiveness of cultural policies will be different for each of them.
The graph shows the relationship between the equivalised income of each household member and annual attendance at cultural activities, differentiating by education level.
Two things are confirmed: (1) that independently of income, education has a positive effect on attendance at cultural activities and (2) that the effect of income on cultural consumption is more significant for higher education levels (secondary education and above).
- To reduce the importance of economic restrictions a fiscal policy could be designed that includes a reduction of the indirect tax on cultural assets. The drop in prices would lead to a direct increase in cultural demand.
- However, a fiscal reform of this type would have regressive effects, by benefiting to a greater extent individuals with a higher income.
- If the aim is to tackle the problem represented by lack of interest, an early cultural education is important to develop the population’s interest and artistic tastes.
- In this case, the effects would only be noted in the long term but would be much more stable.
Education is the socioeconomic variable that has the greatest effect on cultural participation. Directly, because the higher people’s level of education, the greater their interest in and taste for culture. And indirectly, because the higher their level of education, the higher their income, and therefore, the greater their cultural consumption and participation. The study analyses the role played by education and income with regard to cultural participation in three activities of a very different nature: going to the cinema, attending live performances and visits to sites of cultural interest.
The aim of this study is to analyse the role of education, together with other socioeconomic variables, in people’s participation in three types of cultural activities: going to the cinema, attending live performances (concerts and theatre) and visits to sites of cultural interest (monuments, museums, archaeological sites and galleries).
Knowledge of the profile of potential consumers and of the possible barriers to cultural participation constitutes crucial information for the public sector, insofar as it is interested in encouraging cultural consumption or promoting certain cultural activities. Furthermore, if the cultural sector is funded using income from ticket sales, this information will also be relevant for the sector’s professionals.
According to economic studies, education is the most influential variable in cultural participation (see, for example, Seaman, 2005). Firstly, a higher level of education is associated with a greater interest in and taste for culture, which incentivises cultural participation in a direct way. Secondly, the greater the educational level the higher the income, and the higher the income, the greater the cultural consumption (Prieto Rodríguez et al., 2005). Thus, educational level has an indirect influence on cultural consumption through an increase in income.
The data used for analysis are from the year 2015 edition of the Survey on Living Conditions in Spain (ECV15), carried out by the INE (Spanish Statistical Office). A question in this survey asked about participation in three cultural activities over the previous year, with three answers being possible: none, from one to three, and more than three. Also, individuals that had not participated in any cultural activity were asked about the reasons for their non-attendance. The results enable us to analyse cultural participation and the barriers to it, with a special focus on the role of education and income.
Presented first of all are the participation results directly using data from the survey. This is followed by analysis of the influence of relevant variables on attendance as a result of applying statistical techniques to these data. Given the high proportion of individuals that stated that they had not participated, these techniques have enabled classification of the non-attendees as absolute or recoverable. An absolute non-attendee refers to a person who, due to age or lack of interest, neither participates nor is expected to do so. Therefore absolute non-attendees make up a group that is impermeable to cultural policy.
In contrast, recoverable non-attendees are those whose attendance in the last year has been zero, but whose characteristics are similar to those of other people who have attended and, in consequence, the statistical models consider that they could have participated. By way of example, a couple with small children could have the resources and interest necessary to attend a cultural event, but their children may represent a barrier that has prevented them from attending. However, as their children grow that barrier will gradually be diluted, so this group is of special interest for cultural policy designers. For example, the provision of services such as nurseries, workshops for children, or simply a readjustment of timetables could be effective in incentivising the participation of the couple in the example.
2. Education, income and attendance at cultural activities
Graph 1 shows the proportion of individuals who have participated at least once in the activities considered according to education. As would be expected, in all cases the attendance increases notably as educational level does. Based on very similar percentages of attendance for the three activities among individuals with primary education or lower, the growth in attendance at cultural activities with increased educational level is much greater for cinema than for live performances or sites of cultural interest.
Given that the main determining factor of income is level of education, this graph not only reflects the effect of education but also, indirectly, that of income.
Next we will try to separate the direct effect of education in cultural participation from its indirect influence through income. Although information on individual incomes is available, it has been considered more appropriate to use the information on household incomes such that economic capacity will be pondered in relation with the number of members in the household, under the criteria currently followed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Graph 2 shows the relationship between the equivalised income of each member of the household and attendance at cultural activities, differentiating by education levels. Firstly, it is confirmed that education has a positive effect on the demand for cultural activities independently of income. In each graph, the three lines associated with educational level indicate that for any income level, individuals with a greater education level attend cultural activities more regularly. In second place, the slope of each line shows the effect of income for each education level. This effect is more important for higher educational levels, as explained by Prieto Rodríguez et al. (2005).
In summary, average attendance is higher the greater the education level for any income level across all three types of cultural activities. Also, increases in income are related with greater participation across all three activities, but the influence of income is greater among individuals with intermediate and higher education levels than among those with a lower education level.
3. Barriers to participation
Individuals who answered that they have not attended an activity in the last year are asked to give the main reason for their non-attendance. Possible answers are: cannot afford it, not interested, scarce cultural supply (absence of cinemas, live performances or sites of cultural interest) or other reasons. As shown in graph 3, the ECV15 does not completely reflect the main cause of non-attendance, as the “other reasons” is the category alleged with the highest frequency. Next, and in this order, lack of interest and unable to afford it are the most relevant causes and, in last place, the scarce cultural supply.
In all three activities the expected pattern with respect to education is observed. As education increases so the percentage of non-attendance falls and, in consequence, the frequency with which any of the four barriers to participation are mentioned. Furthermore, the reasons stated for non-participation follow the same pattern in all three cases: individuals with low educational levels state less interest and, in general, greater budget restrictions.
Graph 4 shows the relationship between income level and frequency of attendance or reasons for non-attendance at cultural activities.
As was to be expected, the individuals with the lowest income are those that participate least in cultural activities. Furthermore, the differences in attendance levels are almost non-existent for individuals with low incomes (deciles 1 to 3) and, therefore, at risk of social exclusion. This is probably due to a minimum level of resources, underneath which a person is unlikely to be able to afford attendance at a cultural activity. Only from the fourth or fifth decile (which would represent approximately an income of 24 thousand euros per year for a family of three members) are significant changes appreciated.
The greatest differences between activities are observed in the reasons stated for non-attendance. In the case of cinema, the importance of economic restrictions falls as income increases. However, in the case of live performances and visits to sites of cultural interest, the fall in interest as income increases is notable; this is probably due to the greater artistic education of individuals with greater economic resources (Borgonovi, 2004).
4. Probabilities of attendance
Observation of the ECV15 underlines the differences between individuals that have attended some cultural activity and those who have not done so. However, to be able to look in depth at the role that socioeconomic variables play in decisions on cultural participation, it is necessary to interpret the information available in probabilistic terms. A transformation of data using statistical techniques has enabled classification of the individuals who stated non-participation into two groups: absolute non-attendees, those who neither participate nor is it expected that they will do so, and recoverable non-attendees, whose cultural participation has been zero but might not have been so. As already pointed out, these two groups are so disparate that the effectiveness of cultural policies will be completely different for each of them.
Graph 5 shows the relationship between the probabilities of attendance and income. In the three activities, a very large group of absolute non-attendees is observed that it will be difficult to interest in cultural activities, especially in live performances and sites of cultural interest. This result is very general and similar to that obtained by Ateca Amestoy and Prieto Rodríguez (2013) for the United States.
Among live performances and sites of cultural interest a similar behaviour is found. In these activities, the probability of being an absolute non-attendee decreases very sharply with income, while the probability of high attendance increases. In contrast, the probabilities of being a recoverable non-attendee or low-demand person barely change and represent the smaller groups. These figures remain stable and changes only seem to be observed between absolute non-attendees and high-demand people. However, it is possible that processes of substitution between categories are taking place that leave the probability of being a recoverable non-attendee or having low demand practically unchanged. This leads to a clear polarisation, as the population is divided exclusively between absolute non-attendees and high-demand individuals. This occurs to a greater extent for live performances.
As for cinema, the recoverable non-attendees are more sensitive to income than in the other cases. We also observe that the absolute and the recoverable non-attendees present similar probabilities that decline with income. The higher incomes grow, the less absolute non-attendees that exist. This is related with an increase in individuals with a high demand for attendance, while the number of people with low demand remains stable. This lesser degree of polarisation is perhaps due to a more even and general distribution of interest in cinema among the population, with any variations more associated to age and not so much to income.
A similar analysis by education level shows that changing from primary education to higher education reduces by around fifty percentage points the probability of being an absolute non-attendee for all three activities. Therefore, higher levels of education (and of income) make people become more permeable to cultural activities and policies. Also, this increase in the education level multiplies the probability of high attendance, especially at the cinema.
It is also in cinema where the age effect is greater. For example, if people aged below 30 years are compared with those aged over 65, the latter have a probability over ten times greater of being absolute non-attendees. The fall in attendance is distributed across all age groups. However, for the other two activities the age effect is much smaller, although it accelerates from the age of 65 years onwards.
In summary, income and education seem to be the socioeconomic variables with a greater impact on the probability of attendance at cultural activities, with age being another relevant factor, especially in going to the cinema (Fernández Blanco et al., 2009).
This work analyses the role of education and income as barriers to participation in three types of cultural activities: cinema, live performances and visits to sites of cultural interest.
The role played by different types of barriers depends on the activity considered. For live performances and visits to sites of cultural interest, lack of interest (linked to education) is the main reason for non-attendance. However, it seems that it is lack of income, not of interest, that is the basic determining factor in non-attendance at the cinema. In this case there is an industry that designs its products taking into account the interest of potential consumers; attendance at performing arts events and sites of cultural interest requires greater training in taste and when this does not exist neither does interest.
In the case of live performances and visits to sites of cultural interest, great polarisation is observed between high-demand attendees and absolute non-attendees. In contrast, cinema does not present this dichotomy. Income appears as the factor that best explains the changes in levels of cinema attendance. It could be concluded that the lack of interest acts in first place as a barrier to cultural participation. When lack of interest does not represent a problem, as happens in the case of cinema, the economic restriction becomes relevant. Thus, an individual will not consider attending a cultural event if he or she has no interest in it, and only if that interest is present will consideration of other possible restrictions come into play.
These observations pose a dilemma when designing cultural policy. In the short term and to reduce the importance of economic restrictions, the policy could be combined with a fiscal policy that includes, for example, reductions in the indirect tax paid for cultural goods or increases in subsidies for the production of such goods. The consequent fall in prices would have a direct and immediate effect on cultural demand. However, these fiscal policies would be regressive since they would benefit to a larger extent those individuals with a higher income.
If the aim is to deal with the problem represented by lack of interest, cultural policy should be integrated into educational policy in order to improve people’s taste for the arts. In this case, although the effects would only be noticed in the long term, they would undoubtedly be more stable. In the past, these policies in the training of tastes were combined with cultural programmes on radio and television. Today, however, technological changes have eliminated the captive audiences of these media. Although the diversity of supply is now much greater, only those that are already interested in the arts demand these contents. Therein lies the importance of early and compulsory education to develop artistic interest and tastes among the population.
Ateca Amestoy, V.M., and J. Prieto Rodríguez (2013): «Forecasting accuracy of behavioural models for participation in the arts», European Journal of Operational Research, 229(1).
Borgonovi, F. (2004): «Performing arts attendance: an economic approach», Applied Economics, 36(17).
Fernández Blanco, V., L. Orea and J. Prieto Rodríguez (2009): «Analyzing consumers heterogeneity and self-reported tastes: an approach consistent with the consumer’s decision making process», Journal of Economic Psychology, 30(4).
Prieto Rodríguez, J., D. Romero-Jordan and J.F. Sanz Sanz (2005): «Is a tax cut on cultural goods consumption actually desirable? A microsimulation analysis applied to Spain», Fiscal Studies, 26(4).
Seaman, B.A. (2005): «Attendance and public participation in the performing arts: a review of the empirical literature», Nonprofit Studies Program, Georgia State University, Working Paper 05-03.
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