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What musical taste tells us about social class

music conductor

Photo credit goes to: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

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, social class continues to inform our cultural attitudes and the way we listen to music, according to the study.

“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 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 research shows that 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.

Veenstra, G. (2015). Class Position and Musical Tastes: A Sing-Off between the Cultural Omnivorism and Bourdieusian Homology Frameworks Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 52 (2), 134-159 DOI: 10.1111/cars.12068

2 responses

  1. Marissa

    A persons taste in music is definitely influenced by other people and their surroundings. Personally, I enjoy listening to country music because I grew up on a farm, as did everyone who lived around me. Therefore, country was the most prominent type of music in the area of which I live. What kind of music you listen to can also depend on what your friends like. If you are riding in a car with your friend and they turn on music you have never heard of, chances are you may start to enjoy that music as well. I agree with the reading that highly educated people are more likely to like classical music than those who may be least educated.


    June 9, 2015 at 10:56 am

    • You know, I think they just wanted to take a jab at people who listen to country (lol). I agree that our friends probably play a huge role in our music tastes, but you could also argue that your friends are typically in the same social class as you are and that could actually be the reason behind which groups like which music. I guess what I am saying is, we surround ourselves with people like us and typically shun people who are different (consciously or not), so having the same music tastes makes a lot of logical sense too. So (in a really long winded way) thank you for taking time to share your take on it.


      June 10, 2015 at 2:08 pm

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