Ever wondered whether the classical music aficionado next door has had a bit more schooling than the guy blasting rap from his car? New research suggests you may be on to something. A lot of the stereotypes concerning musical taste and socioeconomic status appear to be true.
Psychologist Adrian North of the University of Leicester, U.K., wanted to test musical stereotypes. So he and David Hargreaves of the Open University in Milton Keynes, U.K., conducted an extensive survey in the United Kingdom. The researchers buttonholed more than 2000 fans of 35 different musical styles in various places such as campuses, shopping malls, and train stations and asked them to fill out a questionnaire detailing their jobs, relationships, beliefs, and consumer habits.
As stereotypes might suggest, those with the most education were also the main fans of opera, classical music, and jazz. For example, 8.5% of the classical music lovers had Ph.D.s, compared with 1.4% of those who favored disco music. And classical music lovers' incomes averaged $66,000 compared to $44,000 for lovers of popular dance music. Classical music buffs were also inclined toward intellectual fare, such as current-affairs magazines, whereas the rap/pop crowd favored magazines about cars, women, or celebrities.
One "clear pattern" to emerge was a clustering of antisocial tendencies among young fans of pop, rap, and rock. For example, 53% of hip-hop fans admitted to having committed a criminal act, compared to 18% of fans of musicals. (Not all survey results conformed easily to stereotypes: Opera buffs were least likely to take showers and wash their hair, for example, whereas fans of "DJ-based music" were frequent shampooers.) The findings are described in three papers in press in the journal Psychology of Music.
"Music has been underrated in what it can tell us about societies and individuals," says musicologist John Shepherd of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. And because music preference is "easy to report reliably," adds psychologist Vladimir Konecni of the University of California, San Diego, researchers may be able to someday infer characteristics of certain groups of people based simply on their stated listening habits.
In the meantime, North is expanding his quest. He's looking for 10,000 people to answer an online survey and "paint the first worldwide picture of who likes what" to see whether generalizations emerging from the U.K. study will resonate around the globe.