According to this research, poorer, less-educated people tend to like country, disco, easy listening, golden oldies, heavy metal, and rap. Meanwhile, their wealthier and better-educated counterparts prefer genres such as classical, blues, jazz, opera, choral, pop, reggae, rock, world, and musical theater.
Some of these discrepancies could be due to wealthier peoples’ increased access to certain types of music. For example, opera and musical theater are usually enjoyed at pricey venues, as opposed to heavy metal and rap, which are often performed at less expensive locations. Attending a musical performance in person can be a powerful experience, and would not likely compare to listening to the same music on the radio.
The difference in musical tastes between economic classes could also have to do with the role of music in education. Children who are taught music in school are far more likely to be exposed to classical music, jazz, opera, and many of the other genres associated with the upper class than their poorer counterparts. Children who learn to play an instrument will experience these genres even more profoundly. However, this is a privilege most often enjoyed by affluent children with robust in-school music programs. Sadly, the less wealthy children may not have a musical program in their school at all.
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The research also touched on a hotly debated topic in cultural sociology: whether one’s class is accompanied by specific cultural likes and dislikes, or whether the cultural elite simply have a broader sense of taste. The study determined that wealth and education do not influence a person’s breadth of musical taste at all. Rather, it only made them more inclined to like or dislike specific types of music, as opposed to others.
What if your musical tastes are not consistent with one group or the other? I, for example, enjoy country music, which is associated with the lower class, and musical theater, an upper-class indulgence. Does this mean I am musically diverse – or just a dork? Truthfully, it means that I was raised in an upper-class community by a family hailing primarily from the South, and was therefore exposed to both genres of music. Inconsistencies like these are emblematic of the blending of cultures America prides itself on. Someone who is wealthy today may have ancestors who grew up in poverty – and vice versa. Musical tastes and experiences are often shared between family and friends. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that as class divisions start to blur, so do our musical preferences?