What musical taste tells us about social class

June 3, 2015, University of British Columbia
What musical taste tells us about social class
Credit: Ragnaar Bastiaan/flickr

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

Even in 2015, 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.

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 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.

Explore further: Want to improve your putt? Try listening to jazz

More information: The study, "Class Position and Musical Tastes: A Sing-Off between the Cultural Omnivorism and Bourdieusian Homology Frameworks" is published in the Canadian Review of Sociology.

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5 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
I'm sure the results will be regional, so this mostly just applies to the Vancouver area. If they did the same study in Los Angeles, or in NYC, I'm sure the result would vary from these. So overall this study doesn't mean much outside the Vancouver area.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2015
"Breadth of taste is not linked to class. But class filters into specific likes and dislikes," said Gerry Veenstra, study author ...
I disagree
a lot will have to do with availability and also the personal perceptions of what people culturally consider to be "class"

the typical american thinks that to have class, you must like opera/classical music etc, so that would put the "likes" of those genre into higher class standing

there is no "elite"
the "elite" are culturally defined for starters
and DDBear actually brings up another point: regional subjectivity

another point: i personally love classical music
it is invigorating and difficult to play, as well as engaging
based upon appearances and financial holdings, i would not be classified as "elite" nor culturally high class despite my education

class is a culturally subjective term and applies to malleable culturally defined properties which make this a highly suspect and subjective study, IMHO
5 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
Utter horseshit. Most of the people I grew up with in Texas suburbs came from very wealthy families and every one of them was enamored with rap and chopped & screwed. Selection/availability bias? Maybe, but sweeping generalizations like those made in this article will always end up more than wrong.
not rated yet Jun 04, 2015
Today music is based on volume. The louder the better. How about liking solos; "so low" that you cannot hear it? I guess that would put you as "dead".
5 / 5 (1) Jun 14, 2015
More pseudo-science from dumbed-down academia where entrail-gazing is legitimized under the banner of Sociology and Psychology. How these two fields, whose only product consists of media articles like this one, manage to attract adherents is beyond my classically-trained brain.
None of it is verifiable. Take this analysis, based on "1,600 telephone interviews with adults in Vancouver and Toronto" for example.
Who, among the interviewees, is musically savvy enough to even identify the genre they enjoy? There is a World of difference between the "Country" of the Cyrus clan and that of Willy Nelson, an artist who has the respect of a broad spectrum of musicians - jazz, classical and rock. Rap is not music. Poetry maybe, performance art maybe but it does not conform to the rules of harmony in any way, shape or form. Only those uneducated in music would include it in their musical lexicon. Metal owes much to classical roots.
As with all such studies, "rubbish in - rubbish out" .

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