06 Mar 2008

You and Your Lifestyle: Britain’s cultural tastes revealed

ESRC Festival of Social Science

ESRC Festival of Social Science

Heavy metal music is elite culture while the classical music of the composer Vivaldi is popular culture according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The findings are part of a unique survey that will be presented at two public lectures, 'You and Your Lifestyle', as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. The interactive events will be held at Manchester Museum on 10th March.

Nearly 1800 adults completed the survey which covered their consumption of mass media, visual and performance arts, music, sport, food and drink and domestic leisure. The research investigated how our age, gender, professional and educational experiences shapes the things we like and dislike.

The research team from The Open University and the University of Manchester found that some items that are traditionally seen as high culture - the nineteenth century book Pride and Prejudice and Vivaldi's Four Seasons - were amongst the most popular items in the survey. In contrast, a Briton with a university degree is two and half times more likely than someone with no educational qualifications to like heavy metal music.

Other surprising findings include:
• A similar percentage of people go to bingo as to the opera - only 12%
• Britons still read, but not books: 74% of those in routine occupational work read less than 5 books in the previous year, but 98% of all respondents regularly read newspapers and magazines.
• If you attend the opera frequently you are also likely to eat at French restaurants regularly, own paintings and go to the theatre. But you are also likely to go to rock concerts and the cinema.
• Minority ethnic groups show little interest in the soap opera, Coronation Street, and programmes that embody values of 'Middle England' such as costume dramas and literary adaptations.

"Britons are consuming culture differently," comments Professor Tony Bennett of The Open University. "The divide between high culture and popular culture is disappearing. Instead a divide is emerging between those who take part in any public cultural activities and those who do not."

The event is organised by the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change as part of the ESRC's Festival of Social Science. The festival runs from 7th to 16th March and celebrates some of the country's leading social science research by giving an exciting opportunity to show everyone what the UK's social scientists are doing and demonstrating how their work makes a difference to all our lives.

The research project, Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion, conducted in partnership with The Arts Councils of the UK, the British Film Institute and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is the, first such major exercise to examine cultural interests - including such strands as cuisine, fashion and cinema - and explore the connections between them that shape modern Britain.

More findings will be presented at two public lectures on March 10th at 6.30pm in the Manchester Museum, and on March 12th at 6.30 pm in the Milton Keynes Gallery. Attendees to the free events will also see how closely their tastes fit national trends. Members of the public who wish to attend must email their names to


The research project 'Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion' was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change. It was carried out by Mike Savage, Alan Warde and Modesto Gayo-Cal from Manchester University; and Tony Bennett, Elizabeth Silva and David Wright of The Open University.

Methodology: The project began with 25 focus groups which provided valuable information to design a survey. The survey questioned 1791 of the UK population aged over 18. It included a random sample of 1564 and an ethnic boost of 227 targeted at Britain's 3 major ethnic groups: Indian, Pakistan and Afro-Caribbean. The survey was followed up with 44 semi-structured household interviews.

The Festival of Social Science week is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from the 7th to the 16th March 2008, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. It celebrates some of the very best British social science research, as well as highlighting the ways in which social science makes a difference to everyday lives.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007 - 08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable.

The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as 'Outstanding."

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