Ethnicity and social class: most influential factors in West Midlands’ cultural participation

According to the Regional Lifestyle Survey, of all demographic factors, residents’ ethnicity and social class best predict what they choose to do with their leisure time and how much importance they attach to local cultural facilities.

The Survey, published by the West Midlands Regional Observatory in 2005, used a region-wide postal questionnaire to explore a range of lifestyle-related issues with residents, including their level of participation in cultural pursuits.

A recent analysis of the Survey by Culture West Midlands has shown that ethnicity is the factor that best predicts the extent to which residents’ choose where they live based on proximity to cultural facilities, and their likelihood of visiting the countryside. Respondents who described themselves as ‘Asian or British Asian’ were 36% less likely than ‘White’ respondents to have cited cultural facilities as important to residential choice, and 31% less likely than ‘White’ respondents to regularly visit the countryside.

Overall, ethnicity proved to be the best predictor of non-participation in cultural activities amongst residents. When compared with their white co-respondents, both Asian and Black respondents were found to be over 1.5 times more likely to be non-participants in activities including trips to arts or cultural venues, country parks and leisure and sport centres.

After ethnicity, socio-economic class was found to be the most significant predictor of cultural participation patterns. Compared with socio-economic group A, all other socio-economic groups were found to be significantly more likely to be non-participants.

Libraries stand out as having a different relationship with ethnicity and social class. Compared to White respondents, Asian respondents were far more likely to be library users. Additionally, socio-economic classes D and E were more likely to use libraries than those from Class A. This relationship was found even if all other factors are controlled. Again, counter to many of the trends found for other cultural pursuits, those with long-term limiting illnesses and those aged over 54 were also found to be more likely to be regular users.

These findings are interesting but perhaps not surprising to those working in the sector and regular cultural participants. But what this research does not explore are the reasons why particular demographic groups are more or less likely to value and participate in culture.

Here at the Cultural Observatory, we’re continually trying to broaden our evidence base around issues such as this.

In the past few months, we have funded a piece of qualitative research that will help us to understand more fully what prevents / encourages people to visit the region’s cultural facilities. The findings of this new research will be incorporated in our forthcoming publication on the social, educational and environmental importance of the West Midlands’ cultural sector (due out in 2009).

For more information about forthcoming publications from the Cultural Observatory, please contact me at or call 0121 631 5705.

Also, please do let me know your thoughts on this article by posting a comment below.

2 Responses

  1. These figures are fairly meaningless unless you break them down further – by religion (Asian Muslim, Asian Hindu, Asian Sikh) and ethnicity and national origin.

  2. Hi – thanks for your comment. I agree that it would be really interesting to break down the results further. The Culture West Midlands analysis used 5 rounded ethnic group categories. So, for example, ‘Asian and Asian British’ incorporated ‘Asian Indian’, ‘Asian Pakistani’ and ‘Asian Bangladeshi’. I realise this is unsatisfactory for those interested in detailed trends, but as is often the case – for reasons of brevity the results were streamlined in this way. However, it’s certainly useful to know there is some interest in drilling down to a more detailed level in future. Your wider point about the importance of knowing a respondent’s national origin and religion also gets to the heart of what I would view as a core weakness in current quantitative research – often the ethnicity grid fails to ask these questions, again, for reasons of brevity and so a person’s religion can only be speculated upon etc. I do think the situation is slowly improving, with more detailed grids emerging (such as that used by Birmingham City Council), but at present, it’s only really the Census and specifically focused research on ethnicity which delves into these kind of issues. I hope this sheds some light on the context on which this research was produced and on the daily dilemmas faced by researchers: to include or not to include?(!) Thanks, Lauren

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