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Acting has become a largely middle class profession

actors rehereasingA new study has shown that there are relatively few working class actors and that they earn less than their middle class equivalents because of a ‘class ceiling’.

Researchers from the Department of Sociology at LSE and Goldsmith’s College analysed 402 survey responses from actors and interviewed 47 others. Some of the actors interviewed for the study said that they felt they had been turned down for parts because of prejudice about their social background.

In a paper published in the journal Sociology, Dr Sam Friedman, Dr Daniel Laurison and Dr David O’Brien used data from Great British Class Survey to find 73% of actors responding to the survey came from the middle class and only 27% were working class. In Britain overall, according to Office for National Statistics data, 29% of people are defined as having middle class origins.

Middle class actors reported household earnings on average around £46,100 a year. This compared with £28,700 for actors whose parents who did ‘intermediate’ work and £37,000 for those from working class backgrounds, whose parents did routine or semi-routine work. Even when people of the same age, ethnicity and gender were compared, working class actors reported household earnings of £11,000 a year less than middle class ones.

In the journal article the researchers said: “We demonstrate not only the striking under-representation of actors from working class backgrounds. In particular, we find that working class actors have considerably lower average incomes, pointing towards the kind of class ceiling found previously in Britain’s high-status occupations.

“The British acting profession is heavily skewed towards the privileged. Even when controlling for important variables such as schooling, education, location and age, working class actors have lower incomes than their socially privileged colleagues, pointing towards a clear class-origin pay gap.

“The ability to call upon familial wealth shaped the experience of these actors in myriad ways. It provided insulation from much of the precariousness of the labour market, particularly the need to seek alternative work to support oneself between acting roles.”

‘Like Skydiving without a Parachute’: How Class Origin Shapes Occupational Trajectories in British Acting’ is published in the March 2016 edition of Sociology.

Image: Rehearsal in The Studio, Royal Exchange Theatre, CC BY-SA 2.0

Posted: 29 February 2016