Journal of Cultural Economics

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 177–203 | Cite as

Educational stratification in cultural participation: cognitive competence or status motivation?

  • Natascha Notten
  • Bram Lancee
  • Herman G. van de Werfhorst
  • Harry B. G. Ganzeboom
Original Article


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.


Cultural participation Educational stratification Comparative research Status signaling Cognitive competency Cultural reproduction Multilevel modeling 


  1. Alderson, A., Junisbai, A., & Heacock, I. (2007). Social status and cultural consumption in the United States. Poetics, 35, 191–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barone, C., & Van de Werfhorst, H. G. (2011). Education, cognitive skills and earnings in comparative perspective. International Sociology, 26, 483–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beck, U. (1992). Risk society: Towards a new modernity. London: Sage & Sons.Google Scholar
  4. Becker, G. S. (1996). Accounting for tastes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bellavance, G. (2008). Where’s high? Who’s low? What’s new? Classification and stratification inside cultural “Repertoires”. Poetics, 36, 189–216.Google Scholar
  6. Bourdieu, P. (1984 [1979]). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement in taste. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J.E. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory of research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). Westport: Greenword Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J. C. (1990 [1977]). Reproduction in education, society, and culture. London: Sage in association with Theory Culture & Society Dept. of Administrative and Social Studies Teesside Polytechnic.Google Scholar
  9. Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (2002). Schooling in capitalist America revisited. Sociology of Education, 75, 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bowles, S., Gintis, H., & Osborne, M. (2001). The determinants of earnings: A behavioral approach. Journal of Economic Literature, 39, 1137–1176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Caldwell, M., & Woodside, A. G. (2003). The role of cultural capital in performing arts patronage. International Journal of Arts Management, 5, 34–50.Google Scholar
  12. Casarin, F., & Moretti, A. (2011). An international review of cultural consumption research. Department of Management University of Ca’ Foscari Venice, working paper no. 12/2011.Google Scholar
  13. Castells, ML. (1996). The rise of the network society. The information age: Economy, society and culture, Vol. I. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  14. Cattell, R. B. (1971). Abilities: Their structure, growth, and action. New York: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  15. Chan, T. W., & Goldthorpe, J. H. (2007a). Social status and newspaper readership. American Journal of Sociology, 112, 1095–1134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chan, T. W., & Goldthorpe, J. H. (2007b). Social stratification and cultural consumption: Music in England. European Sociological Review, 23, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Collins, R. (1979). The credential society: An historical sociology of education and stratification. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  18. De Graaf, N. D., De Graaf, P. M., & Kraaykamp, G. (2000). Parental cultural capital and educational attainment in the Netherlands: A refinement of the cultural capital perspective. Sociology of Education, 73, 92–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. DiMaggio, P. (1987). Classification in art. American Sociological Review, 52, 440–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2004). From unequal access to differentiated use. In K. Neckerman (Ed.), Social inequality (pp. 355–400). New York: Rusell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  21. Erikson, R., & Jonsson, J.O. (1996) Explaining class inequality in education: the Swedish test case. In R. Erikson, & J. O. Jonsson (Eds.), Can education be equalized? The Swedish case in comparative perspective (pp. 1–63). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  22. Farkas, G. (1996). Human capital or cultural capital? Ethnicity and poverty groups in an urban school district. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  23. Ganzeboom, H. B. G. (1982). Explaining differential participation in high-cultural activities: A confrontation of information-processing and status seeking theories. In R. Werner (Ed.), Theoretical models and empirical analyses (pp. 186–205). Utrecht: E.S. Publications.Google Scholar
  24. Ganzeboom, H. B. G. (1984). Cultuur en informatieverwerking. [Culture and information processing.] Dissertation, Utrecht: Universiteit Utrecht.Google Scholar
  25. Ganzeboom, H. B. G. (1989). International comparison of culture consumption data: An elementary model. In R. C. Waits, W. S. Hendon, S. Davidson, & J. Mark (Eds.), Cultural economics 88: A European perspective (pp. 109–116). Akron, OH: Association for Cultural Economics.Google Scholar
  26. Gesthuizen, M., Solga, H., & Künster, R. (2011). Context matters: Economic marginalization of low-educated workers in cross-national perspective. European Sociological Review, 27, 264–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Goldberg, A. (2011). Mapping shared understandings using relational class analysis: The case of the cultural omnivore re-examined. American Journal of Sociology, 5, 1397–1436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Green, D. (2001). Literacy skills, non-cognitive skills and earnings: An economist’s perspective.
  29. Hauser, R. M., & Featherman, D. L. (1976). Equality of schooling: Trends and prospects. Sociology of Education, 49, 99–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Katz-Gerro, T. (2002). Highbrow cultural consumption and class distinction in Italy, Israel, West Germany, Sweden and the United States. Social Forces, 81, 207–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Katz-Gerro, T., & Jaeger, M. M. (2013). Top of the pops, ascend of the omnivores, defeat of the couch potatoes: Cultural consumption profiles in Denmark 1975–2004. European Sociological Review, 29, 243–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kirsch, I. (2003). Measuring literacy in IALS: A construct-centered approach. International Journal of Educational Research, 39, 181–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kraaykamp, G., & Van Eijck, K. (2010). The intergenerational reproduction of cultural capital: A threefold perspective. Social Forces, 89, 209–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lamont, M. (1992). Money, morals and manners. The culture of the French and American upper-middle class. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lamont, M., & Lareau, A. (1988). Cultural capital: Allusions, gaps and glissandos in recent theoretical developments. Sociological Theory, 6, 153–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lareau, A. (1987). Social class differences in family-school relationships: The importance of cultural capital. Sociology of Education, 60, 73–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lena, J. C., & Peterson, R. A. (2008). Classification as culture: Types and trajectories of music genres. American Sociological Review, 73, 697–718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lipset, S. M., & Bendix, R. (1959). Social mobility in industrial society. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  39. Lizardo, O. (2006). How cultural tastes shape personal networks. American Sociological Review, 71, 778–807.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. López-Sintas, J., & Garzía-Álvarez, E. (2002). The consumption of cultural products: An analysis of the Spanish social space. Journal of Cultural Economics, 26, 115–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Notten, N., & Kraaykamp, G. (2009). Home media and science performance: A cross-national study. Educational Research and Evaluation, 15, 367–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Notten, N., & Kraaykamp, G. (2010). Parental media socialization and educational attainment: Resource or disadvantage? Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28, 453–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2006). Information retrieved October 2012 from
  44. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2013). Information retrieved November 8, 2013 from
  45. Park, H. (2008). Home literacy environments and children’s reading performance: A comparative study of 25 countries. Educational Research and Evaluation, 14, 489–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peterson, R. A. (1997). The rise and fall of highbrow snobbery as a status marker. Poetics, 25, 75–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Peterson, R. A. (2005). Problems in comparative research: The example of omnivorousness. Poetics, 33, 257–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Peterson, R. A., & Kern, R. M. (1996). Changing highbrow taste: From snob to omnivore. American Sociological Review, 61, 900–907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Purhonen, S., Gronow, J., & Rahkonen, K. (2011). Highbrow culture in Finland: Knowledge, taste and participation. Acta Sociologica, 54, 385–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rijken, S. (1999). Educational expansion and status attainment: A cross-national and over-time comparison. ICS Dissertation, Utrecht.Google Scholar
  51. Rössel, J. (2011). Cultural capital and the variety of modes of cultural consumption in the opera audience. The Sociological Quarterly, 52, 83–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Scitovsky, T. (1976). The joyless economy. An inquiry into human satisfaction and consumer dissatisfaction. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Shavit, Y., Arum, R., & Gamoran, A. (2007). Stratification in higher education. A comparative study. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Snijders, T. A. B., & Bosker, R. J. (1999). Multilevel analysis. An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. Londen: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  55. Statistics Canada (n.d.). International adult literacy survey. Microdata user’s guide. Google Scholar
  56. Thorsby, D. (1999). Cultural capital. Journal of Cultural Economics, 23, 3–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ultee, W. C., Batenburg, R., & Ganzeboom, H. B. G. (1993). Cultural inequalities in cross-national perspective. In A. Rigney & D. Fokkema (Eds.), Cultural participation: Trends since the middle ages (pp. 173–189). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2013). Information retrieved October 2013 from
  59. Van de Werfhorst, H. G. (2011). Skill and education effects on earnings in 18 countries: The role of national educational institutions. Social Science Research, 40, 1078–1090.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Van der Meer, T., Te Grotenhuis, M., & Pelzer, B. (2010). Influential cases in multilevel modeling. American Sociological Review, 75, 173–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Van Eijck, K., & Knulst, W. (2005). No more need for snobbism: Highbrow cultural participation in a taste democracy. European Sociological Review, 21, 513–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Van Eijk, K. (1999). Socialization, education and lifestyle: How social mobility increases the cultural heterogeneity of status groups. Poetic, s, 26, 309–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Van Hek, M., & Kraaykamp, G. (2013). Cultural consumption across countries: A multi-level analysis of social inequality in highbrow culture in Europe. Poetics, 44, 323–341.Google Scholar
  64. Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. E. (2009). The spirit level. Why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  65. Yaish, M., & Katz-Gerro, T. (2012). Disentangling ‘Cultural Capital: The consequences of cultural and economic resources for taste and participation. European Sociological Review, 28(2), 169–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natascha Notten
    • 1
  • Bram Lancee
    • 2
  • Herman G. van de Werfhorst
    • 3
  • Harry B. G. Ganzeboom
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of SociologyRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Amsterdam Centre of Inequality StudiesUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.VU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations