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Arts and Culture Participation Among Children and Young People: Insights from the Growing Up in Ireland Study

May 29, 201929 May 2019

Arts education / Arts participation by young people

Arts Council Ireland


Dr. Emer Smyth and ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute)

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Based on data from the longitudinal Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study, this report examines arts and cultural participation among three, five, nine, and 13-year-olds, including structured activities (e.g., lessons and outings in music, dance, and drama) and informal participation (e.g., television viewing, digital engagement, and reading for pleasure).

The report addresses multiple research questions, such as which groups of children are more likely to engage in certain cultural activities and what outcomes (both academic and wellbeing-related) are associated with cultural participation at each age level.

In the three and five-year-old groups, the report finds that “even at this early age, gender and social differences are apparent in the children’s exposure to cultural activities”. The report notes that children with higher-income and highly-educated parents are more likely to participate in arts and cultural activities.

In the nine and 13-year-old groups, the report finds that involvement in structured cultural classes and activities becomes more prevalent but is also “highly differentiated by social background and by gender, with girls from more advantaged families have the highest level of involvement”.

The GUI study also investigated “two groups of children generally underrepresented in existing studies”: those from migrant backgrounds and those with disabilities. Both groups tend to have higher levels of screen time, but “children with disabilities… have families more highly engaged in reading and singing with them (at three years) and taking them on educational visits or to the library (at five years)”.

In terms of outcomes, the study found that watching more television at three and five years of age is related to improved vocabulary but “is also associated with greater socio-emotional difficulties”. Reading books was found to contribute to both socio-emotional wellbeing and academic self-confidence.

The longitudinal nature of the study “allows for an analysis of the influence of arts and cultural participation on child outcomes”, particularly cognitive development and “socio-emotional wellbeing”. The report notes that “patterns of cultural engagement are established from an early age” and that early intervention is beneficial for young children from all groups.

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