Educational stratification in cultural participation
Cognitive competence or status motivation?
This article examines educational stratification in highbrow cultural participation. There are two contrasting explanations of why cultural participation is stratified. The status hypothesis predicts that people come to appreciate particular forms of art because it expresses their belonging to a certain social group. The cognitive hypothesis stipulates that cultural participation depends on a person’s cognitive abilities, which is why educational stratification in cultural consumption is so evident, especially among consumers of high culture. However, to test these explanations, previous work predominantly relied on an individual’s level of education, thus confounding the two mechanisms. We test the status and cognitive hypothesis using data from the International Adult Literacy Survey, covering 18 countries. First, by including an individual’s literacy skills, we separate the effect of cognitive ability from that of education. The remaining effect of education can be seen as a better measure of the status-related motives for cultural participation. Second, we examine whether stratification varies across countries. The findings show that the status-related effect of education on cultural participation is smaller in societies with larger educational expansion and intergenerational educational mobility. This is in line with the status explanation, which holds that boundaries between educational groups are less exclusionary in societies that are educationally less stratified. In contrast, the relation between cognitive skills and cultural participation is unaffected by distributional variation in education, as the cognitive hypothesis predicts.