Finding 4: Getting a degree

Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree

A report by Karen Robson for the Institute for Social and Economic Research, using the British Cohort Study of 1970, found that even accounting for the effects of economic capital of the family of origin, art and music-related leisure, having attended a night course, reading for pleasure, visiting a library and leisure writing at age 16 all increased the odds of having a university degree at 29 (2003: p.22).

Using the NELS:88 cohort study in the US, Catterall found that students who had intensive arts experiences in high school were three times more likely than students who lacked those experiences to earn a bachelor’s degree. They also were more likely to earn ‘mostly A’s’ in college (17% versus 5% of low SES students) (2012: p.16). Catterall also found that Both 8th-grade and high school students who had high levels of arts engagement were more likely to aspire to college than were students with less arts engagement (2012: p.14).

An earlier study by Catterall also found that the education advantages to the students with high arts involvement appeared to increase over time, and arts-engaged low- income students tend to perform more like average higher- income students (President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities [PCAH] 2011: p.18). This suggests a role for the arts in schools as a way of combating inequality. Research from schools in Chicago, North Carolina and Oklahoma shows arts integration as an efficient, successful school improvement tool, raising attainment, improving the attendance and behaviour of students and increasing teacher morale (PCAH, 2011: pp.19-21).


Catterall, James S., Dumais, Susan A. and Hampden-Thompson, Gillian. The arts and achievements in at-risk youth: findings from longitudinal studies (Washington: National Endowment for the Arts, 2012)

President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools (Washington DC: 2011)

Robson, Karen. ‘Teenage Time Use as Investment in Cultural Capital’ Working Papers of the Institute for Social and Economic Research paper 2003 p12 (Colchester: University of Essex, 2003)