Teenagers who indulge in “high-culture” activities, such as visiting museums, the theatre and opera, improve their earnings and social standing in later life, according to research.
Reading, writing and playing a musical instrument for pleasure are also worthwhile pursuits which earn “cultural capital” to enhance future chances, the study shows. Playing a musical instrument is seen as improving a child’s future.
“High-culture activities are generally thought of as pastimes of the upper classes,” said Karen Robson from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex in a study to be published on Monday.
But she added: “Research indicates that no matter what the social class of their parents, participation in such forms of leisure by teenagers has positive effects on their earnings potential, educational attainment and civic engagement in later life.”
The study coincides with the launch of Big Arts Week, in which 2,000 artists and celebrities will go into schools to promote study of the arts.
The Forward Arts Foundation, the organisers, said teachers were seriously concerned about the state of arts teaching in schools, with nine in 10 worried that a generation of children would not be able to think creatively.
The Essex University research emerges from the British Cohort Study of people born in 1970 who kept a diary of their activities when they were aged 16. They were later surveyed aged 29.
Different activities produced different outcomes. For instance, theatre attendance at age 16 increased an individual’s earnings potential, while taking an evening course and going to the library as a teenager both increased the likelihood of having a university degree when older.
Teenagers should be warned that listening to recorded music and doing homework do not count as high culture.