What Musical Taste Tells Us About Social Class


In most ways, the conclusions of this study of musical taste and social class seem obvious even though we each may reject the ideas of social classes in favor of a politically correct egalitarianism.  Personal opinion aside, there are cultural differences between those of the elites of society and those with more common roots that do apply to the characters we develop and stories we write about them.

Social cliche's like musical taste do help the reader or viewer quickly know where a character is from, and what segment of society they come from.  On the other, using some of these cliche's to set your character up then using a cliche' that identifies someone from a different segment helps create a unique flavor, such as a farmer with a great love of opera, or the wealthy society matron who loves country pop.  This creates a dissonance in the minds of your reader or viewer.

That we live in an essentially materialistic culture is a given - even though there are many who either reject material wealth or are simply not driven by what many consider a middle class ethos.  

Thinking through these issues of class, taste and motivation will add depth to your characters - though at the risk of creating caricature rather than character.

Just another angle to consider when crafting character and story.

Here's the report:

What musical taste tells us about social class

Love the opera? Hungry for hip hop? It turns out your musical likes and dislikes may say more about you than you think, according to University of British Columbia (UBC) research.

Even in 2015, social class continues to inform our cultural attitudes and the way we listen to music, according to the study, which was recently published in the Canadian Review of Sociology.

"Breadth of taste is not linked to class. But class filters into specific likes and dislikes," said Gerry Veenstra, study author and professor at UBC's Department of Sociology.

The study involved nearly 1,600 telephone interviews with adults in Vancouver and Toronto, who were asked about their likes and dislikes of 21 musical genres. (Veenstra himself is partial to easy listening, musical theatre and pop.)
  • Poorer, less-educated people tended to like country, disco, easy listening, golden oldies, heavy metal and rap. Meanwhile, their
  • wealthier and better-educated counterparts preferred genres such as classical, blues, jazz, opera, choral, pop, reggae, rock, world and musical theatre.
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The research touches on a hotly debated topic in cultural sociology: whether one's class is accompanied by specific cultural tastes, or whether "elites" are defined by a broad palette of preferences that sets them apart.

The study determines that wealth and education do not influence a person's breadth of musical taste. However, class and other factors -- such as age, gender, immigrant status and ethnicity -- shape our musical tastes in interesting and complex ways.

What people don't want to listen to also plays a key role in creating class boundaries. "What upper class people like is disliked by the lower class, and vice versa," said Veenstra.

For example, the least-educated people in the study were over eight times more likely to dislike classical music compared to the best-educated respondents. Meanwhile, lowbrow genres such as country, easy listening and golden oldies were disliked by higher-class listeners.

Related stories:


Other posts of interest:
Story Source:  Materials provided by University of British Columbia. Gerry Veenstra. Class Position and Musical Tastes: A Sing-Off between the Cultural Omnivorism and Bourdieusian Homology Frameworks. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 2015

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