Can cultural consumption increase future earnings? Exploring the economic returns to cultural capital

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

British Journal of Sociology


Aaron Reeves and Robert de Vries

Publication date


Cultural consumption is often viewed as a form of embodied cultural capital which can be converted into economic rewards (e.g., earnings) because such practices increase the likelihood of moving into more advantaged social positions. However, quantitative evidence supporting this theory remains uncertain because it is often unable to rule out alternative explanations. Cultural consumption appears to influence hiring decisions in some elite firms, in both the US and the UK, but it is unclear whether these processes are applicable to other professional occupations and other labour market processes, such as promotions. We examine these processes using data from Understanding Society, an individualā€level panel survey conducted in the UK, allowing us to explore whether cultural consumption predicts future earnings, upward social mobility and promotions. People who consume a larger number of cultural activities are more likely to earn higher wages in the future, to be upwardly socially mobile, and to be promoted. Cultural consumption, then, can function as cultural capital in some labour market settings, potentially contributing to the reproduction of income inequality between generations.

Volume and page numbers

70, 214-240





Labour Market, Economics, Wages And Earnings, Arts, Sociology, Social Stratification and Social Mobility