DESCRIPTION: The General Social Survey (GSS) is an almost annual survey of a randomly selected cross-section of English speaking residents of United States households. Along with standard demographic and socio-economic data the 1993 GSS included a number of questions dealing with culture. The culture questions measured personal values, predispositions towards strategies of action, and artistic and cultural tastes, activities, and attitudes.

RESEARCHER AND DATA: The 1993 GSS was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in Chicago, Illinois, James Davis and Tom Smith principal investigators, with support from the National Science Foundation.

SAMPLE: The 1993 GSS collected information from 1,606 respondents (82 percent response rate) who were randomly selected from adult, English speaking, non-institutionalized persons in the United States. The cumulative GSS merges all past GSS's into a single file with each year acting as a subfile. The data in the combined file covers years 1972-1993, excluding 1979, 1981 and 1992, years in which no survey was conducted. The combined data set contains individual responses for 29,388 respondents including the 1,606 adults who participated in the 1993 study. The inclusion of a weight variable allows researchers to make analyses representative of U.S. residents by age, gender and ethnicity.

DATA: A large number of standard items have been included on the 1993 GSS such as standard demographic and socio-economic indicators, and attitudes about government spending, abortion, and the role of government. The 1993 data set also included a topical module on environmental knowledge, attitudes and activity.

Demographic variables include gender, education coded by year, age coded in eight categories, income coded in 21 categories, and marital status coded in 5 categories. Respondents were asked size of household and number of children. They are also asked if they are working and occupations are coded in 9 categories. Respondents were asked about residential mobility (i.e. number of years lived in current residence), religious preference coded in 29 categories and race/ethnicity coded in 5 categories.

The interview schedule in the section about culture focused on three areas of cultural studies: personal values, predispositions towards strategies of action, and artistic and cultural tastes and activities. The culture questions cover a wide range of interests in cultural research beyond arts participation. With respect to arts participation, the section on culture included items on musical tastes and preferences, leisure time activities, television viewing, as well as attitudinal data regarding arts and culture.

The culture module included 18 questions tapping attitudes towards different music genres -- including oldies rock, country/western, mood/easy listening, gospel, blues, big band/swing, contemporary pop, show tunes, jazz, classical, bluegrass, folk, reggae, latin, opera, new age, rap, and heavy metal. The question structure offered explicit options for the respondent to reply that he or she didn't know much about this musical type, as well as for negative, or 'dislike', responses.

The culture module also included 14 behavioral items measuring participation in leisure or recreational activities in the past 12 months, including: going to see a movie in a theater, visiting an art museum or gallery, making crafts, playing a musical instrument, going to the ballet or dance performance, going to a classical music or opera performance, or taking part in a music, dance or theater performance.

In addition, the section on culture included a number of survey items measuring respondents' agreement or disagreement with statements about cultural authority and cultural diversity, for example suggesting that artistic excellence can be found in popular and folk culture as well as in the fine arts, or that only a few people have the knowledge and ability to judge excellence in the arts, Several items addressed school curricula and instructional languages.


Davis, James and Tom Smith, 1992. The NORC General Social Survey: A User's Guide. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Marsden, Peter V. and Joseph F. Swingle, 1994. "Conceptualizing and measuring culture in surveys: Values, strategies, and symbols." Poetics, 22: 269-289.

DiMaggio, Paul. 1996. "Are Art-Museum Visitors Different from Other People? The Relationship between Attendance and Social and Political Attitudes in the United States." Poetics 24: 161-80 (special issue on research on museums) .

COMMENTS: The GSS employs survey methods that produce a representative sample, and high quality data (Marsden 1994, p. 286). As a result, survey results are largely generalizable to the population of the United States.

Because the GSS is an omnibus survey that collects substantial data on social and political attitudes, socio-economic position and social origins there is potential for a wide variety of research measuring the relationships between arts and cultural participation and attitudes with other demographic and socio-economic information (Marsden 1995, p.285). Unfortunately, the questions about culture were only included on the 1993 GSS; thus trend data are unavailable. Due to the necessary brevity of the culture module, many potentially interesting measures were left off of the survey, including measures of cultural literacy, tastes in home decorations, perceived availability of resources and informal social networks. As a result, there are no measures on the GSS that allow researchers to address the relationship between socialization and cultural diffusion (Marsden 1994, p. 286).


Roper Center for Public Opinion Research
P.O. Box 440
Storrs, CT, 06268.