How do people engage with culture in Scotland?

31 Aug 2012 in Aberdeen City & Shire, Argyll & the Islands, Audience Development Blog, Dance & Drama, Film, Galleries, Heritage, Highland, Moray, Museums, Music, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, Shetland, Visual Arts & Crafts, Writing

Scotland's Culture

Scotland's Culture

Each year the Scottish government conduct a Scottish Household Survey that gives us an insight into the composition, characteristics, attitudes and behaviours of Scottish households and individuals. The research is used by the government to support their work in transport, communities and local government policy areas and allow for the early detection of national trends. The Survey covers a range of topics including housing, communities, economic activity, finance, education, transport and travel, the internet, health and caring, local services, volunteering and culture and sport.

I’ve been looking over the last three published reports going back to 2007 to see what trends we can detect about cultural attendance and participation in Scotland. I’ve picked out some of the things which caught my attention and I’ll let you interpret the facts in the way you want. However this type of information can help you to identify either how big a potential local or national audience you could have, or help us to identify areas that we need to grow, develop and support.


Sian’s Top Insights into the Scottish Household Survey

I’ve been looking at the reports from 2007/2008, 2009/2010 and the most recent report 2011 to see what patterns or trends I can see. These are some which stood out.

Participation and attendance

  • 63% of the population read for pleasure, by far the most popular cultural activity to participate in (the second most popular activity is dancing with 17%). There are approximately 5.2 million people living in Scotland, so this means around 3.3 million people read for pleasure.
  • When we then look at the cultural activities that people attend in Scotland it shows that only 5% of the population attend book or writing related events, that’s about 261,100 people. A fraction of the total number of people who read books.
  • A similar trend emerged for dance – 19% of the population participate in dancing, however only 5% attend a live dance or ballet performance. It is not clear what the survey means by ‘participate in dancing’ and whether that refers to classes or dancing on a night out.
  • However in music, art, theatre and cinema the behaviour shows the opposite trend.
  • Around 11% of the population play an instrument, however 28% have attended a live music event (that’s around 1.5 million people).
  • 9% of people actively create art or sculpture, while 17% have attended a gallery, and a further 17% have attended an exhibition or viewed an art collection (together that’s around 1.7 million people – although I would imagine that people who said they have visited a gallery are likely to be the same people who say they attend exhibitions).
  • And in cinema, 53% of the population have been to the cinema to see a film (the most popular activity attended in Scotland), however only 2% of people in Scotland actively make film or video’s.


I noticed three possible trends in the data around age and attendance.

  • There has been a small rise (2%) of the number of 16 to 24 year olds in attending cultural events in the last 5 years (2007-2011).
  • Similarly for people aged 25 to 34 there has been a 2% increase in attendance.
  • Together that’s about an extra 25,000 people under the age of 34 attending cultural events.
  • However, this is compared to a 3% decrease in the number of people aged 75 and over attending cultural events – this equates to a drop of around 10,970 people.

 Frequency of Attendance

  • A quarter of people go to the cinema once a month in Scotland (that’s about 705,000 people), while 42% of people go 3 or 4 times in a year (around 1.1 million people).
  • On average 27% of the population have attended the theatre in the last 5 years (1.4 million people), of these less than a third have been 3 or 4 times a year (approximately 469,990 people), just over a third had been twice a year and less than a third once a year.
  • Similar patterns emerged from museum attendance, live music attendance, exhibition and gallery attendance. Around about a third of people will attend 3 or 4 times a year, a third twice a year and a third once a year.
  • In Crafts, although the survey does not clearly outline what a craft exhibition is and whether that includes craft fairs or visiting craft shops, approximately 11% of the population (574,430 people) have attended a craft exhibition. Around 23% go 3 or 4 times a year, 35% go twice a year and 36% go once a year.
  • There has been an increase in the frequency of craft exhibitions people attend in the last 5 years – we can see a 5% increase from 21% of people attending craft exhibitions 3 or 4 times a year in 2007 to 26% in 2011 – that’s an increase of approximately 28,700 people in 5 years.
  • In opera and classical music 6% of the population attend these events (that’s around 313,330 people). Of these 40% attended one event per year, 30% saw 2 events per year and 22% saw 3 or 4 events, which is approximately 68,930 people.
  • We can also see some rises and falls within opera and classical music attendance over the last 5 years. In 2009/2010 there was a big rise in the number of people attending classical and opera events. In 2007/08 27% of people saw 2 events per year, and then in 2009/10 34% of people had seen 2 events. However in 2011 only 29% of people went to see 2 classical or opera events – that’s a drop of 5% – approximately 21,932 people from the previous two years.
  • A similar fall can be seen in the number of people who see opera or classical music once a year. In 2007/08 44% of people went to see at least one classical or opera concert (that’s around about 137,863 people). While in 2011 this dropped by 5% to 39% – which is a fall of about 15,666 people.
  • Finally dance showed a different trend, of the 5% of the population who attend live dance or ballet performances, over 50% go to see a show once a year, 25% go twice a year and 15% go 3 or 4 times a year.

Rural versus Urban

For the first time in 2009/2010 the survey distinguished between urban and rural attendance and participation. Although we only have two reports worth of data to compare there are some interesting trends to be brought to your attention.

  • Attendance of live music events in urban areas and accessible rural areas has increased by 5%.
  • Theatre attendance across urban and rural areas has stayed the same since 2009.
  • Museum attendance has increased by 5% in remote rural areas.
  • Gallery attendance has increased in remote small towns by 5% and 4% in rural areas.
  • Nearly twice as many people in rural areas attend craft exhibitions as they do in urban areas. While 10% of urban populations go to craft events, 19% do so in remote rural areas and 17% in accessible rural areas.
  • 8% of large urban populations attend dance performances compared to 7% of people in accessible rural areas; only 5% attend dance performances in remote rural areas.
  • Of course there are individuals who do not attend any cultural events during the year, and the report shows us that 22% of people in urban areas do not attend, while 30% of people in remote rural areas do not attend.

There is a lot more information available in the reports which you can download directly from the Scottish Governments website (all links made available below). And if you would like any advice on how to use and interpret this kind of data then you can get in touch with me.

Scotland’s People

Scottish Household Survey 2007/2008

Scottish Household Survey 2009/2010

Scottish Household Survey 2011