Agent 007.1 looks at the new release on Culture Statistics from the EU.

November 15, 2019
Photo of the author - Jonathan Goodacre

Jonathan Goodacre

If you have the time and inclination you might be interested in leafing through the latest (204 page) EU report on Culture Statistics.

This annual report from the Eurostat department at the EU

“… presents a selection of indicators on culture pertaining to cultural employment, international trade in cultural goods, cultural enterprises, cultural participation and the use of the internet for cultural purposes, as well as household and government cultural expenditure.”

Of course, we turn straight to Page 123 for the section on Cultural Participation. In fact, this section comes mainly from a 2015 study which found that 64% of the EU (EU28 + Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) adult population had taken part in a cultural activity in the past year.

As usual in such studies, the Nordic countries have the highest levels of cultural participation, with the Western / Central European states like the UK, France and Germany in the middle and the Southern and Eastern states at the other end of the range. However, 007.1 is unsure just how much this relates to actual participation and how much to cultural variations in definition of participation. We know from our work in the UK how difficult it is to be precise in just one country, but at a wider European level it becomes even harder to be consistent.

Cultural Participation Map

It is when we move beyond the headline results that the data becomes more interesting. There are, for example, encouraging signs in terms of youth participation with (overall) participation higher amongst younger people. According to the study, 83% of people aged between 16 and 29 have had one artistic experience in the last 12 months, compared with 53% aged between 65 and 74.

There are also some more familiar or predictable patterns reported. Participation is linked strongly to ‘educational attainment’ (level of qualification attained). People with a tertiary level of educational qualification were more than twice as likely to take part in cultural activities as people with non-tertiary levels. This pattern is reproduced across every state in Europe and, interestingly, for those countries with higher levels of participation overall, the difference between those with and without degrees is narrower (in Denmark or Iceland for example).

Cultural Participation Chart.png

These sorts of connections have been made before (not least by TAA’s predecessor Audiences London about engagement in London) and the reasons are not difficult to understand. It is also 007.1’s observation that the Nordic countries have a much stronger emphasis on arts education from an early age and that this has a life-long effect on cultural participation.

There are plenty of other fascinating insights. For example, when looking at reasons given for not attending, proximity to cultural institutions is more often cited as a reason in larger countries than in smaller. It is also somewhat re-assuring to find that the country with the highest cinema attendance is France.

This does raise further questions about research at an international level.

  • There are practical limitations of conducting research at scale and can realistically only be undertaken by supra – national bodies like the EU. This is not a problem as such and points to the value of such bodies but it then depends on what it is they want to measure.
  • The consistency and standardisation of questioning is difficult to sustain across different regions, languages and cultures. One of the consequences is the research can be fairly blunt and simple. In the study above for example, respondents are only given 4 alternatives for non-attendance.
  • Populations, politics and culture changes constantly and the year on year trends are what would make it more interesting. The study above, published in the 2019 Report is actually from 2015. What has changed in the last five years?
  • Research on participation, needing survey methodologies, self-definitions and decent sample sizes can be hard to collect and resource. It could be said that the data in this report which relies on numbers in employment, economics etc is more up to date and detailed.
  • What it is that you value has an effect on what you decide to collect and it could be said that this is one of the reasons why the EU’s statistical service concentrates so heavily on economics, skills and employment to the detriment to some degree of other areas of research.

Explore the free report for yourself

That’s it for the moment, 007.1 returns with more interesting findings next time. Let us know if you find anything good!


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