Are the creative industries meritocratic? An analysis of the 2014 British Labour Force Survey

Dave O’Brien, Daniel Laurison, Andrew Miles, Sam Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is currently widespread concern that Britain’s cultural and creative industries (CCIs) are increasingly dominated by the privileged. This stands in stark contrast to dominant policy narratives of the CCIs as meritocratic. Until now this debate has been clouded by a relative paucity of data on class origins. This paper draws on new social origin data from the 2014 Labour Force Survey to provide the first large-scale, representative study of the class composition of Britain’s creative workforce. The analysis demonstrates that CCIs show significant variation in their individual “openness”, although there is a general under-representation of those from working-class origins across the sector. This under-representation is especially pronounced in publishing and music, in contrast to, for example, craft. Moreover, even when those from working-class backgrounds enter certain CCIs, they face a “class origin pay gap” compared to those from privileged backgrounds. The paper discusses how class inequalities, as well as those related to gender and ethnicity, between individual CCIs point to occupational subcultures that resist aggregation into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s broader category of CCIs. The paper concludes by suggesting the importance of disaggregating CCIs and rethinking the definition and boundaries of CCIs as a meaningful category.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-131
Number of pages16
JournalCultural Trends
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2016


  • creative industries
  • creative labour
  • creative work
  • Labour Force Survey
  • meritocracy
  • pay gap


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