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Gender and Highbrow Cultural Participation in the United States


Angèle Christin
Working Paper #42, Fall 2010

The literature on cultural choice largely focuses on the influence of socioeconomic background upon aesthetic tastes and cultural consumption. However, empirical analyses consistently report that gender is an essential determinant of highbrow cultural participation. In particular, women are considerably and significantly more likely than men to participate in high-status cultural activities.

Using recent data on the United States (Survey of Public Participation in the Arts 2008), this research integrates several explanations of the gender gap in highbrow cultural participation. A negative binomial model explores the effect of 1) early socialization in the arts and family background 2) education 3) differential involvement by gender in the labor force; and 4) the influence of marriage, on women’s and men’s cultural participation. A disaggregated analysis by age groups indicates that early socialization in the arts completely accounts for women’s higher cultural consumption in younger age groups and that education increases men’s participation in the arts more than women’s for oldest respondents. These findings do not support the idea that the gendered division of labor on highbrow culture has disappeared for younger respondents, but delineate instead how gendered patterns of participation in the arts are mediated by broad transformations in the educational regime in the United States.

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