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National Trends in Artist Occupations

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Bar graph: Artists in the labor force: 1970 - 2001. (Current Population Survey 1990-2001)

Trends in the Artist Labor Force: 1970-2001
Occupational Category Decennial Census Current Population Survey
1970 1980 1990 1990 2000 2001
  '000s '000s '000s '000s '000s '000s
Total civilian labor force 79,802 104,058 122,473 124,067 140,432 141,362
Professional specialty occupations 8,800 12,275 16,648 16,132 21,482 22,038
All artist occupations 737 1,086 1,671 1,608 2,110 2,196
Actors & directors 40 67 110 108 149 145
Announcers 26 47 60 55 57 51
Architects 54 108 157 147 217 218
Authors 28 46 107 85 144 128
Dancers 7 13 22 16 33 28
Designers 233 338 596 549 758 814
Musicians & composers 100 141 148 167 170 187
Painters, sculptors, & craft artists 87 153 213 224 246 255
Photographers 68 95 144 127 154 159
Teachers 42 28 21 46 36 46
Other artists, not elsewhere classified 53 50 93 84 146 165
Occupational Category Change:
1970-1980
Change:
1980 - 1990
Change:
1990 - 2000
# % # % # %
  '000s   '000s   '000s  
Total civilian labor force 24,256 30.5% 18,415 17.7% 16,365 13.1%
Professional specialty occupations 3,475 39.5% 4,373 35.6% 5,350 33.2%
All artist occupations 349 47.3% 586 53.9% 502 31.2%
Actors & directors 27 67.1% 42 64.1% 41 38.0%
Announcers 21 81.1% 13 28.3% 2 3.6%
Architects 54 100.7% 49 45.7% 70 47.6%
Authors 18 64.8% 61 133.3% 59 69.4%
Dancers 6 78.2% 9 66.1% 17 106.3%
Designers 106 45.3% 257 76.4% 209 38.1%
Musicians & composers 41 41.2% 7 5.3% 3 1.8%
Painters, sculptors, & craft artists 66 76.4% 60 38.9% 22 9.8%
Photographers 27 40.2% 49 51.5% 27 21.3%
Teachers -14 -32.4% -7 -24.6% -10 -21.7%
Other artists, not elsewhere classified -3 -6.5% 44 88.1% 62 73.8%

Graph: compistiion of artist occupations: 1970 -2001 (individuals whose primary occupation was in the arts).

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Artists Compared to Other Occupations, 1970 - 2001

Decade by Decade Changes in the Labor Force

There are two conventional benchmarks against which changes in the number of artists may be measured -- changes in the overall civilian labor force and changes in the professional labor force (of which artists are a sub-category). The 1970s saw the second half of the baby boom generation come of age, which swelled the ranks of the civilian labor force from 79.8 million workers to 104.1 million, a growth rate of 30.5 percent. In the 1980s and 1990s, though, the growth rate of the civilian labor force slowed considerably, to 17.7% and 13.1%, respectively.

Bar graph: civilians in the labor force: 1970 - 2001. (Current Population Survey 1990-2001)

The professional labor force, which represented 11 percent of the total civilian labor force in 1970, also grew rapidly during the 1970s -- 39.5%. But unlike the civilian labor force in the 1980s and 1990s, the professional labor force continued to grow at a rapid rate during each of the subsequent decades -- 35.6% in the 1980s and 33.2% in the 1990s. As a result, the proportion of the civilian labor force accounted for by professionals grew to 15.6 percent by 2001.

Bar graph: professionals in the labor force: 1970 - 2001. (Current Population Survey)

Bar graph: professionals as a proportion of the  labor force: 1970 - 2001. (Current Population Survey 1990-2001)

Decade by Decade Changes in the Number of Artists

Paralleling (and, for a while, outpacing) the growth of professionals in the labor force over the past 31 years, the number of artists in the labor force also increased rapidly during the past three decades. The number of artists grew by 47.3% during the 1970s and 53.9% during the 1980s, more than doubling the total number of artists between 1970 and 1990. The growth rate for artist occupations slowed somewhat during the 1990s, to 31.2%. But it still considerably outpaced the overall growth rate of the civilian labor force (13.1%).

Bar graph: growth rates of different sectors of the labor force: 1970 - 2001. (Current Population Survey 1990-2001)

As a proportion of the total civilian labor force, artists accounted for just under 1 percent (0.92%) in 1970. In 2001, they represented 1.55 percent of the labor force. As a proportion of the professional labor force, artists have accounted for almost exactly 10 percent of all professionals since the mid-1980s.

Graph: artists as a proportion of the labor force : 1970 - 2001

Bar graph: Artists as a proportion of professionals. (Current Population Survey 1990-2001)

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Artists in Traditional Performing & Visual Arts Occupations, 1970 - 2001

For some analytic purposes, it may make sense to define artists solely in terms of the four categories traditionally associated with the performing or visual arts -- actors and directors; dancers; musicians and composers; and painters, sculptors and craft artists. Together, these four occupational categories represented about 28 percent of all artists in 2001, slightly less than what they accounted for in 1970 (31.8%). Two of these categories -- "actors and directors" and "dancers" -- grew steadily and rapidly throughout the decades of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Another -- "painters, sculptors, and craft artists" -- grew rapidly during the 70s and 80s, but only sluggishly during the 1990s. The category "musicians and composers" grew substantially during the 1970s, but has grown very little since 1980.

Painters, Sculptors and Craft Artists

Painters, sculptors and craft artists made up the largest of the "traditional" artist categories in 2001 -- 255,000 people (or about 11.6 percent of all artists), according to Current Population Survey data. By comparison, the 1970 Census reported 87,000 painters, sculptors and craft artists (11.8 percent of all artists at that time). "Painters, sculptors and craft artists" was one of the fastest growing of all artist categories in the 1970s (76.4%), lagging behind only architects (100.7%), announcers (81.1%), and dancers (78.2%). In subsequent decades, however, the growth rate in this category slowed considerably, to 38.9% in the 1980s and just 9.8% in the 1990s. This category was surpassed in growth rate by 7 other artist categories in each of the past two decades.

Bar graph: Traditional  artists in the labor force: 1970 - 2001. (Current Population Survey 1990-2001)

Musicians and Composers

Musicians and composers, the second-largest category of "traditional" artists in 2001 with 187,000 people (8.5 percent of all artists), was actually the largest of these four categories in 1970 (accounting for 13.6 percent of all artists at that time). But by 1980 it had been surpassed by painters, sculptors and craft artists. Although the number of musicians and composers grew significantly during the 1970s, from 100,000 to 141,000 (an increase of 41%), that rate of growth was actually the third slowest of all 11 artist categories, an indication of just how much expansion was taking place in artist occupations during the 1970s. Since 1980, though, "musicians and composers" has grown at an almost imperceptible rate -- just 5.3% in the 1980s and 1.8% in the 1990s. The slow growth rate for this category in the 1980s is particularly noteworthy since the growth rate for all artist occupations was even higher during the 1980s (53.9%) than it was in the 1970s (47.3%).

Actors and Directors

As a category, "actors and directors" has grown steadily and rapidly during each of the past three decades, exceeding the overall rate of growth for artist occupations during each decade. This category grew by 67.1% in the 1970s, 64.1% in the 1980s, and 38.0% in the 1990s. The 1970 Census reported 40,000 actors and directors (5.4 percent of all artists at that time). The 2001 Current Population Survey estimate was 145,000 (6.6 percent of all artists).

Dancers

Dancers make up the smallest of the 11 artist occupations. The 2001 Current Population Survey estimated the number of dancers at 28,000, representing 1.3 percent of all artists (up from 0.9 percent in 1970). However, the growth rate in this category has been consistently high throughout the past three decades -- 78.2% in the 1970s, 66.1% in the 1980s, and 106.3% in the 1990s. It was by far the fastest growing category in the 1990s, and ranked third in growth rate during the 1970s and 1980s.

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Architects & Designers, 1970 - 2001

Together, architects and designers accounted for nearly half (47%) of all artists in 2001, according to the Current Population Survey, with designers making up the great bulk of that total. Both categories have grown significantly during each of the past three decades.

Bar graph: architects and designers in the labor force: 1970 - 2001.  (Current Population Survey 1990-2001)

Designers

"Designers" was, by far, the largest category of artists in 1970 (233,000), more than twice the size of the second largest category -- musicians and composers (100,000). At that time, designers accounted for 31.6 percent of all artists. By 2001, according to Current Population Survey data, the number of designers was estimated to be 814,000 (37.1 percent of all artists), more than three times as large as the second largest artist occupation -- painters, sculptors and craft artists (255,000). During the 1970s, this category grew at roughly the same rate as all artist occupations in general (45.3%, compared to 47.3%). It burgeoned in the 1980s, growing by more than a quarter of a million people (257,000), a figure larger than the total number of artists in any other category. This growth rate of 76.4% in the 1980s was higher than all but two other artist occupations -- authors (133.3%) and other artists, not elsewhere classified (88.1%). During the 1990s, designers increased by another 38.1%, just ahead of the overall rate of growth for all artist occupations during the decade (31.2%).

Architects

"Architects" is one of only two artist occupations to grow at a rate of better than 40 percent per decade since 1970 (the other being authors). The number of architects actually doubled during the decade of the 1970s, growing from 54,000 to 108,000, by far the highest rate of growth for any artist occupation during that decade. During the 1980s, the category grew by 45.7%, and during the 1990s by 47.6%. In 1970, architects made up 7.3% of all artists. By 2001, they accounted for one in ten (9.9%).

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Authors, Photographers, & Other Artists, 1970 - 2001

Five other artist occupations have been tracked since 1970 -- announcers; authors; photographers; teachers of art, drama, and music; and other artists, not elsewhere classified. Together, these occupations accounted for 25 percent of all artists in 2001. Only one of these groups -- authors -- has consistently grown at a faster rate than artists in general. (In fact, this category appears to have grown more rapidly than any other artist occupation since 1970.) The number of photographers has also grown steadily, at a rate just below the average for all artist occupations. The number of announcers grew substantially during the 1970s, but has grown little since 1980.

It is unclear what has happened to the number of teachers in the arts over the past three decades. The data suggest a substantial decline in this occupation. But this may be due as much to problems in the collection of data in this category as it is to any real declines.

Finally, there appears to have been a substantial increase in the number of "other artists, not elsewhere classified" since 1980. (This category showed little change, however, during the 1970s.)

bar graph: other artists in the labor force: 1970 - 2001. Current Population Survey 19

Authors

"Authors," as a category, has grown at a faster rate than any other artist occupation since 1970. It was the fastest growing artist occupation during the 1980s (133.3%) and the third fastest during the 1990s (69.4%, behind dancers and other artists, not elsewhere classified). It also grew at a rate faster than the average for all artist categories during the 1970s (64.8%). As a result, authors, who made up 3.8 percent of all artists in 1970, accounted for 5.8 percent of all artists in 2001. Recent data from the Current Population Survey suggest that there were probably about five times as many individuals working in primary jobs as authors in 2000 as there were in 1970 (144,000, compared to 28,000), although confirmation of this fact awaits the release of detailed occupational data from the 2000 Census sometime in 2003.

Announcers

In 1970, the number of announcers and authors were almost identical (26,000 versus 28,000). In 1980, the Census actually counted 1,000 more announcers than authors (47,000 versus 46,000). But these two categories diverged completely after 1980. The second-fastest growing artist occupation during the 1970s (81.1%), "announcers" slowed to 28.3% growth during the 1980s and just 3.6% growth during the 1990s. While the number of authors climbed to an estimated 144,000 in 2000 (according to the Current Population Survey), the number of announcers grew only to about 57,000. As a proportion of all artists, announcers have fallen from 3.5 percent in 1970 to 2.3 percent in 2001.

Photographers

While "photographers" has not grown quite as fast as other artist occupations in general since 1970, it did grow more rapidly than the total civilian labor force during each of the decades of the '70s, '80s, and '90s -- at 40.2%, 51.5%, and 21.3%, respectively. Photographers, who numbered 68,000 in 1970, accounted for 9.2 percent of all artists at that time. In 2001, the Current Population Survey estimated the number of photographers at 159,000, representing 7.3 percent of all artists.

Teachers of Art, Drama, and Music

Although Census and Current Population Survey data suggest that the number of teachers in the arts declined steadily from 1970 to 2000, there are reasons to believe that this may be due to a change in the way teaching specialties have been reported over time. In 1970, the Census reported 42,000 teachers of art, drama or music, a figure that declined to 28,000 in 1980 and to 21,000 in 1990. But a closer examination of the data collected on postsecondary teachers by the Census in 1980 and 1990 calls into question whether these declines are real. For example, the overall number of postsecondary teachers actually increased by 23.4% from 1980 to 1990. Yet the number of teachers who reported their teaching specialties decreased by 24.1%. As a result, nearly every teaching specialty reported a decline in teachers between 1980 and 1990, despite the fact that the overall number of postsecondary teachers grew over that period. For example, the number of teachers in earth, environmental and marine sciences was reported to have declined by 44.9%, the number of biology teachers by 36.8%, psychology teachers by 22.4%, physical education teachers by 54.3%, and so on. Just 5 of 28 teaching specialties reported increases in the number of teachers between 1980 and 1990. These numbers are very hard to reconcile with a reported 23.4 percent increase in the total number of postsecondary teachers between 1980 and 1990.

Further, it should be noted that there is considerable variation from year to year in the Current Population Survey estimates of the number of arts teachers. In 1990, the Current Population Survey estimated that there were 46,000 secondary teachers in the arts, a figure that declined to 36,000 by 2000. However, according to the 2001 Current Population Survey, there were once again 46,000 arts teachers in the United States. Tracking the change in this category from 1990 to 2000 would suggest a loss of 22% in this occupation category. But if the 2001 figure is substituted for the 2000 figure, the net change in this category is zero. Those are radically different findings from which radically different conclusions might be drawn. A figure that varies that significantly from year to year must be taken with a grain of salt.

Other Artists, Not Elsewhere Classified

The number of "other artists, not elsewhere classified," has risen dramatically since 1980. It was the second fastest growing category of artists during both the 1980s and the 1990s, at 88.1% and 73.8% respectively. This period of rapid growth followed a decade of no growth at all during the 1970s, when the population of "other artists" started at 53,000 (7.2% of all artists at that time) and ended at 50,000 (4.6% of all artists in 1980). In 2001, the Current Population Survey estimated the number of "other artists" at 165,000, or 7.5% of all artists.

What types of artists end up in this rapidly growing residual category? According to "Trends in Artist Occupations: 1970 - 1990" (National Endowment for the Arts Research Division Report #29) by Diane C. Ellis and John C. Beresford, "some of the hundreds of occupations that are put into this group include advertising/layout persons, amusement park entertainers, astrologers, calligraphers, circus performers, comedians, entertainers, language translators, lecturers, magicians, modelers, show girls, sports announcers, and stunt men. In general, this group includes a large number of entertainers and performers who have very unusual or unique jobs in the arts, as well as people working in artistic jobs that are either too vague or too general in description to be classified elsewhere."

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