Menus Subscribe Search
artist-tools

(PHOTO: AFRICA STUDIO/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Artists Report High Job Satisfaction

• September 04, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(PHOTO: AFRICA STUDIO/SHUTTERSTOCK)

New research from Europe finds those in creative professions are relatively low-paid, more likely to be unemployed—and robustly satisfied with their work.

The life of a poet, painter, or performer is seldom an easy one. Aside from the few who make it big, earnings tend to be low, while unemployment rates tend to be high. So why do so many people pursue a career in the arts?

In two words: Job satisfaction.

That’s the implication of recently published research featuring data from 49 European countries. In what researchers describe as a “robust phenomenon,” it reports artists are more satisfied with their work than non-artists—in large part due to the autonomy they enjoy.

On a scale of one (very unhappy with their work) to 10 (totally happy), European artists average out at 7.7. That’s significantly above the 7.3 average for non-artists.

A research team led by Bruno Frey, distinguished professor of behavioral science at the University of Warwick, looked at two sets of data from the European Values Study: the “waves” collected in 1999 and 2008. It supplemented those findings with data from the British Household Panel and the Swiss Household Panel.

The researchers looked at responses to the direct question: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your job?,” comparing the responses of artists and non-artists. Their definition of “artist” was reasonably broad: It included not only composers, musicians, dancers, and actors, but also journalists, clowns, magicians, and nightclub performers.

Their key finding, reported in the journal Economics Letters: On a scale of one (very unhappy with their work) to 10 (totally happy), European artists average out at 7.7. That’s significantly above the 7.3 average for non-artists. This gap remains even when controlling for differences in such factors as income and hours worked.

Oddly, that significant gap narrowed to near-nothingness for Brits, who were unhappier with their jobs overall. British artists scored 5.49 on job satisfaction, compared to 5.45 for non-artists.

The Swiss, on the other hand, are happier at work than most: Artists there averaged 8.23 out of a possible 10, while non-artists averaged 8.08.

So why are artists (aside from those in the U.K.) happier in their work? The researchers note that they were significantly more likely to describe their job as interesting; to say it allowed them to learn new skills and use their own initiative; and to report they were largely free to make their own decisions.

In addition, “Being self-employed raises job satisfaction,” the researchers write, “and artists are self-employed more often than other individuals.” Self-employment also tends to mean flexible working hours—another factor linked to high job satisfaction.

But even after factoring in all of those advantages, artists remain more satisfied with their job than non-artists. This “can be attributed to the satisfaction artists get from creating artworks,” the researchers write.

Frey and his colleagues conclude that these results should be taken into account by any government or non-profit looking to help the arts. “While supporting artists financially is important, it should not be the major, let alone only, consideration,” they write. “A greater effort should be made in safeguarding their self-determination and autonomy.”

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 17 • 8:00 AM

Why Don’t We Have Pay Toilets in America?

Forty years ago, thanks to an organization founded by four high school friends, human rights beat out the free market—and now we can all pee for free.


September 17 • 6:32 AM

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists’ appetites.


September 17 • 6:00 AM

The Grateful Dig: An Archaeologist Excavates a Tie-Dyed Modern Stereotype

What California’s senior state archaeologist discovered in the ruins of a hippie commune.


September 17 • 4:00 AM

The Strong Symbolic Power of Emptying Pockets

Israeli researchers find the symbolic act of emptying a receptacle can impact our behavior, and not for the better.


September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


September 16 • 2:00 PM

Man Up, Ladies! … But Not Too Much

Too often, women are asked to display masculine traits in order to be successful in the workplace.



September 16 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Brilliant 12-Year-Old?

Charles Wang is going to rule the world.


September 16 • 10:09 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t a place, but an era of migration. It would have happened even without New York City.


September 16 • 10:00 AM

A Law Professor Walks Into a Creative Writing Workshop

One academic makes the case for learning how to write.



September 16 • 7:23 AM

Does Not Checking Your Buddy’s Facebook Updates Make You a Bad Friend?

An etiquette expert, a social scientist, and an old pal of mine ponder the ever-shifting rules of friendship.



September 16 • 6:12 AM

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn’t have any extra emotional impact.


September 16 • 6:00 AM

What Color Is Your Pygmy Goat?

The fierce battle over genetic purity, writ small. Very small.



September 15 • 4:00 PM

The Average Prisoner Is Visited Only Twice While Incarcerated

And black prisoners receive even fewer visitors.


September 15 • 2:00 PM

Gambling With America’s Health

The public health costs of legal gambling.


September 15 • 12:23 PM

The Scent of a Conservative

We are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs, according to new research.


September 15 • 12:00 PM

2014: A Pretty Average Election

Don’t get too worked up over this year’s congressional mid-terms.


September 15 • 10:00 AM

Online Harassment of Women Isn’t Just a Gamer Problem

By blaming specific subcultures, we ignore a much larger and more troubling social pathology.


September 15 • 8:00 AM

Atheists Seen as a Threat to Moral Values

New research attempts to pinpoint why non-believers are widely disliked and distrusted.


September 15 • 6:12 AM

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.


September 15 • 6:00 AM

Interview With a Drug Dealer

What happens when the illicit product you’ve made your living off of finally becomes legal?


September 15 • 4:00 AM

A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses

The ability to delay gratification has been held up as the one character trait to rule them all—the key to academic success, financial security, and social well-being. But willpower isn’t the answer. The new, emotional science of self-regulation.


Follow us


Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.