According to a group of researchers from Oxford University, it doesn’t matter if you were raised on opera or Bruce Springsteen. Using data from seven countries, they tested a theory that people born to posh families absorb only “high culture” while “popular” or “mass” culture is strictly for those from ordinary to humble beginnings. They found that someone with an impressive ancestry and a silver spoon in his mouth is not necessarily any more cultured than the rest of us.
“We find little evidence for the existence of a cultural elite who would consume ‘high’ culture while shunning more ‘popular’ cultural forms,” the two Oxford academics said, when their results were published this week. “There are certain individuals who fit this description, but they are too few in number to figure in any survey-based analysis.”
People’s education, income and social class were all taken into account but this study, unlike others of its kind, differentiated between “class” and “status”. An out-of-work aristocrat has class, without status, while there are bright people from poor backgrounds who have “status” but not “class”.
In previous studies, they have concluded that status is now determined more by the work someone does than by their birth or their wealth. Office workers consider that they have a higher status than manual workers; professionals think themselves a cut above works managers, and so on.
The newspaper a person chooses, and the forms of entertainment that person enjoys are all tied up with ideas about social status. That does not mean that professionals in elite jobs restrict themselves to “elite” arts, but it does mean that the opera houses and specialist art galleries are likely to be filled with people who have “status”.