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Panic! 2018: Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries

June 20, 201820 June 2018

Human resources in the arts and culture / Diversity and equity

Create London & Arts and Humanities Research Council


Orian Brook, David O’Brien, and Mark Taylor

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Based predominantly on a survey of 2,487 creative sector workers in the United Kingdom (called the Panic! Survey), this report concludes that “the cultural and creative industries are marked by significant inequalities”. Because the results do not appear to be based on a randomized sample, there is uncertainty regarding whether the responses provide a representative sample of all creative sector workers in the U.K.

The nine cultural and creative industries covered by the survey are: 1) advertising and marketing; 2) architecture; 3) crafts; 4) design (product, graphic, and fashion); 5) film, tv, video, radio, and photography; 6) IT, software, and computer services; 7) publishing; 8) museums, galleries, and libraries; and 9) music, performing, and visual arts.

The main finding of the report is that there is significant underrepresentation “of women and those from minority ethnic communities in specific cultural occupations”. In addition, “a key characteristic of the British cultural and creative workforce is the absence of those from working class social origins”. More specifically:

  • “Almost every occupational sector has an underrepresentation of women in its workforce, with Publishing (52.9%) and Museums, galleries and libraries (64.8%) the only two sectors where women are not under-represented compared to the workforce overall.”
  • People from Black and minority ethnic groups account for 9% of the U.K. labour force but only 3% of those in museums, galleries, and libraries, 4% of those in film, TV, video, radio, and photography, and 5% of workers in music, performing arts, and visual arts.
  • People from working class origins represent 21% of the U.K. labour force but only 13% of workers in publishing, 12% of those in film, TV, video, radio, and photography, and 18% of those in music, performing arts, and visual arts.

The report contains many other notable findings related to inequalities in the creative sector labour force. For example:

  • “Young people from upper-middle class origins were disproportionately represented in creative jobs …. Young people from working class origins were by contrast, underrepresented …. In terms of opportunities, and fairness, the situation did not change between 1981 and 2011.”
  • “In terms of social class, social mobility has been a longstanding problem for the sector, meaning that it is currently dominated by those from affluent social origins.”
  • “Workforce inequalities are reinforced by the prevalence of unpaid labour”, with 87% of survey respondents indicating that they had worked for free.
  • Panic! respondents were disproportionately likely to know other cultural and creative workers and less likely to know people working in non-creative jobs (as friends, family members and colleagues).” The authors indicate that these “narrow social networks [suggest] a type of social closure within the sector”.

Regarding workers’ perceptions of merit-based advancement within the sector, the report indicates that “those respondents who are the best paid are most likely to think the sector rewards talent and hard work, and are least likely to see exclusions of class, ethnicity and gender in the workforce”.

The researchers’ analysis of a broader survey of the ethical and political values and attitudes of workers indicates that those within the creative sector “are the most liberal and left wing of any set of occupations”.

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