The average arts employee in the UK is female, 34 and earns less than £20,000 a year

The average arts employee in the UK is female, 34 and earns less than £20,000 a year


norman lebrecht

January 30, 2014

A fascinating study from artsHub on the true state of the UK arts industry.

More than 3 in 4 employees are young women. Most have 5 jobs in 10 years. More than half work in London and their job satisfaction is sky-high.

Oh, just read the whole thing and give us your take on it. Far more interesting than anything you’ll hear at orchestra conventions.

Chrissie, Anna, Laura, …. everyone. We want to hear why you are happy with so little.



Oh, and let’s hear, too, from the 0.2% who earn over £200,000 a year.



  • Chrissy Kinsekka says:

    Thanks Norman. I can’t speak for anyone else, but here are my thoughts: Fundamentally, I work in the arts, like most people, because I am passionate about it.

    It is true that arts jobs don’t pay well. But we all knew that when we chose that career path. But I have a good salary for London, which is commensurate with many of my friends in management jobs in the public and charity sector. I imagine these figures are biased towards lower level jobs, of which there are many. Personally I think that career options get narrower the higher up the salary scale you go; when a job becomes available it really is a case of “musical chairs” as a small pool of people shift around the London (in particular) jobs. There are few jobs over £45k, and those that are, are often CEO or Director roles. There are many very well qualified people going for few senior jobs; the number of posts available at £30k+ are minimal.

    There is of course a huge worry that young people won’t study arts subjects because of the massive financial commitment placed on them at such a young age, which will of course feed in to the job market as they realise that jobs are low paid. So will we end up with a workforce who are independently financially supported, either by partners or parents, in order to enable them to work in this industry? I have recently become a mentor for a wonderful new charity, Arts Emergency ( who are doing fantastic work helping to mentor and encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in to the arts regardless of financial background or perceptions of elitism.

    The average salary in the UK is £26500, so I guess we’re not doing too badly, though of course these figures are skewed by disproportionate earnings at the higher end, and everyone knows living in London is expensive.

    Ultimately, I do the job I do at the Mayor’s Music Fund because I love it and believe passionately in music education, particularly in offering opportunities to children who would otherwise not be able to manage. I have a comfortable and happy life, and believe passionately in the work that I do. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all what we want?

    Chrissy Kinsella

    Head of Programmes

    The Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians

  • Doug says:

    Couple low pay, high demands and an abusive atmosphere [been my experience more than once] and what do you get? One of two things: high turnover and mediocre individuals who excel only at fiercely defending their tiny bit of turf. And we wonder why management in the music industry has become ineffective and inept. That’s why I left London to return to my native land like many of my foreign colleagues who were fed up.

  • Christopher says:

    It’s a tad depressing that only 15% of people get paid more than £30k a year in the arts. I know this is a good wage, but given that the majority of jobs are in London, £30k is around average. As an arts professional, I’ll be the first to say that you couldn’t do the job without bags of passion and enthusiasm for the work you produce, but the arts sector needs to pay better in order to retain talent. If the average worker has 5 jobs in 10 years – thousands of £s must be being lost at arts organisations hiring and training new staff. Perhaps if salaries were higher (we’re not talking extortionate, just enough to not make you move jobs), retention rates would improve. When you’re paid £20k a year, for example, £25k feels like a major increase, yet a relatively small investment in the grand scheme of things.

    Ultimately, working in the arts isn’t a job for life for most people. Women are more likely to work part-time, and many leave the sector when there’s no where left for them to go, and they can get paid twice as much in a different area.

    I’ve moved jobs 3 times in 5 years. Partly as a result of fixed-term contracts, but also because of the need to earn enough to live in London without outside assistance. My family would never be able to support me to do an internship, or to accept a low-paid job. Keeping salaries low means access to arts admin jobs are only to those from well-off families and also ultimately leads to a talent drain from arts administration at the top end of the scale.

    If I want to get married, start a family or buy a house – the reality is that I’ll need a higher salary. Yet if I did the same job in another sector I would get paid twice as much. Despite the endless passion I have for the job (and I really do count myself very lucky), the sacrifice could, eventually, be too much if I don’t move to another job for more money.

    • Arundo Donax says:

      Having a job in the arts or music is perfectly possible, provided that you only treat the salary as being either sufficient for a single or as ‘pin money’. Men and women coming out of college tend to make different calculations. Women can afford to go into a low-paid job in the arts if they do not anticipate becoming the sole or primary breadwinner for a family. Furthermore, when it comes to deciding who stays at home with the kids, there is only one arrangement which works economically. Let’s face it, a woman being an arts administrator on £20k isn’t going to harm her chance of marrying a solicitor or banker. However, for a man, salary and career prospects are important considerations and, whilst they might dream of a job in the arts, they often make a hard-headed decision to go into something better-paid, even if it means lower job satisfaction. It’s a vicious circle, because this means that arts jobs can usually be filled even with the low salaries on offer, so there is no need to offer any more. It is also possible to retain your enthusiasm for a low-paid, and possibly insecure, job, if the money is not essential.

      Whilst it might not matter much whether arts administrators are male or female, much the same phenomenon is being seen in teaching and the lack of male teachers is likely to be one reason for the under-performance of boys.

      However, feminists are blind to all this. They are usually very driven and career-focused and do not understand what drives someone to go into a lower-paid job with high inherent satisfaction and the only explanation for the resulting gender pay gap which is ‘acceptable’ is discrimination. If you try to put forward any alternative explanation you are subjected to all manner of straw men and ad hominem attacks.

  • paulkelly20 says:

    It strikes me not much has changed since that 1970s TV drama series ‘Telford’s Challenge’ with Peter Barkworth and Hannah Gordon. He was a Bank Manager (well remunerated) and she worked for the Arts Council and then a Theatre producer for ‘pin money’. I think she had more fun though. The arts pay badly and so most men don’t see it as a career option and opt for merchant banking, consultancy, marketing, media etc That’s bad both for the arts and for men.

  • timthecomposer says:

    “…people employed in the arts industry work…” – what a depressing phrase. I don’t see it as work, I see it as life, and I hate this word “industry” as if we’re all Nibelungs chipping away in a mine so that politicians can boast about GDP and “growth” etc. And anyway I bet there is a high proportion of self-employment in there. But also plenty of jobsworths no doubt for whom it is indeed 9-5 down ‘pit.

    I suppose I am in the 0-£9999 bracket but then I have a second “job”, as indeed do most of us composers, and by the sounds of it so does our hypothetical 34.5 year old highly educated female: “She will tend to have more than one job but no more than two.”

    And if the great majority say they do it for passion, not for money, is it any surprise that they don’t earn a lot from it? They aren’t _trying_ to earn a lot from it, for goodness’ sake.

  • Chrissy Kinsella says:

    Um, excuse me Arundo, “However, feminists are blind to all this. They are usually very driven and career-focused and do not understand what drives someone to go into a lower-paid job with high inherent satisfaction and the only explanation for the resulting gender pay gap which is ‘acceptable’ is discrimination. If you try to put forward any alternative explanation you are subjected to all manner of straw men and ad hominem attacks.”


    ” a woman being an arts administrator on £20k isn’t going to harm her chance of marrying a solicitor or banker”.

    I’m really quite offended that you assume a) I can’t possibly be a feminist because I am happy to work in the arts in a good job with high satisfaction and b) my sole purpose in life is to marry someone with a “better” job than me. These are both the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard. I can’t even quite figure out what your point is?

    • Arundo Donax says:

      OK, I admit that I was insufficiently clear and tarred all feminists with the same brush. There are, however, ideologues, largely in politics and academia, who believe that all gender differences are socially constructed in order to perpetuate the supremacy of men and they are disproportionately influential. Prioritising spending time with your children at the expense of a career is considered a sub-optimal choice and careers such as yours re held to be low paid simply as a means of oppressing women. Every time a report is published which finds that women earn x% less than men is trumpeted as evidence of discrimination and the cry goes up ‘something must be done’. Any attempt to make any other arguments relating to women’s choices is met with the above response. I accept that very many women who make their own choices and who accept both the advantages and disadvantages of these, such as you,are also feminists.

      As for the statement about taking a job at £20k not harming marriage prospects, I again accept that not all women might think like this. However, it is impossible to be the sole or main breadwinner for a family on that salary and if you want a nice house and car etc, someone else will have to earn most of the money. Men get the message that if they want the nice house and car, they are almost certainly going to have to earn a decent salary (regardless of whether their partner also earns a good salary), and their career aspirations are most often shaped by this from an early age. For women, the plan of i) graduate, ii) take a highly satisfying but poorly paid job in the arts, iii) find a partner who earns good money, iv) get nice house and car and v) take time out with your young family may not be every woman’s idea, but for those that want, it does represent a plan with good chances of success.

  • Halldor says:

    @Christopher – very valid points.

    I’ve worked in arts admin for just under 20 years, and was only able to afford a 2-bedroom house 5 years ago, with the help of my better-paid partner (and this was in the regions, not London). Many of my colleagues, on similar salaries, routinely work 10+ hours of unpaid overtime per week. Although I work full-time, I have a second (freelance) career in my spare time, in order to pay the mortgage, so I’m effectively working 50 hours most weeks.

    The fact that we don’t simply walk away from these jobs does, outwardly, seem to suggest a high level of job satisfaction – but as we see, there is indeed a very high level of job-turnover, and as we move on through our lives and careers, the opportunities to earn viable salaries and acquire senior posts dwindles. Apart from marketing, finance and fundraising roles, the skills involved in arts admin tend to be highly specialised – and in the economic conditions of the last 5 years, that’s made the possibilities of a career change very scarce. The situation is even worse outside of London: experienced arts managers in their late 30s, who have hard-won morrgages, who may be planning to start families and may be caring for elderly parents, do not have the flexibility of recent graduates. Relocation may not be an option.

    But beyond that, might there be cultural reasons for this apparent high level of job-satisfaction? In the arts world, we continually speak the language of uplift, of beauty, of the life-changing power of great art. We’ve all got into it for idealistic reasons, and we invest huge amounts of personal emotion in our work. It may be hard to admit even to yourself (let alone a researcher) that the reality is very different. Job-satisfaction is an article of faith: I’ve had colleagues who’ve been bullied, harassed, had their pay arbitrarily cut and who have made themselves ill through over-work. But I genuinely don’t think any one of them would say, in public, that they were dissatisfied. Any more than a career teacher would admit that they disliked children, than a nurse would confess to despising certain patients, or than an employee of a major arts organisation would admit to agreeing with the government.

    Personally, I experience months at a stretch of bitter frustration, and have no idea how – at 40 – I could ever hope to support a family in this career. In return, I have a couple of daily moments of quiet satisfaction, the company of interesting and intelligent colleagues, and occasional brief hours of life-enhancing, profoundly rewarding pride in a project achieved or a life changed. Are the latter honestly enough to offset the former? If I thought they weren’t, I’ve been in this business too long to dare say so out loud.

  • Chrissy Kinsella says:

    Just seen this job advertised for the OAE; Director of Finance and Operations; a senior role you would say. £35-40K. Dreadful.