The industries that produce intellectual property, also known as "creative industries," play a pivotal role in the economies of advanced countries. Yet, we know little about what influences people who work in the creative industries. This study examines whether socialization patterns affect selection into creative positions and how professionals in the field attain legitimacy. This project focuses on the case of advertising professionals employed in the creative and accounts departments of advertising agencies. Within this context, the project examines the link between socialization patterns and creativity: whether early exposure to diverse ideas and cultural forms increases the chance that an individual will seek out a creative position. This project will also contribute to the theoretical debate on culture and inequality by demonstrating how cultural signals are used to gain legitimacy in the workplace. Data will be collected through a survey distributed to a random sample of advertising professionals. In addition, the study involves forty semi-structured interviews with professionals employed in elite advertising agencies and four months of participant observation within an agency.

Broader Impacts This project has practical implications for employers as well as educators preparing students to enter the creative industries. Labor markets in advanced industrialized countries around the world are shifting towards occupations related to the knowledge economy, including but not limited to the creative sector. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Commission and the United States Census, creative industries are the fastest growing sector in many industrialized countries. By contributing to our understanding of this large and growing economic sector, the project may inform our ability to maximize global competitiveness. Findings from this study may also inform training and education programs that focus on providing cultural literacy with the goal to train the next generation of professionals in the field.

Project Report

Project Outcomes Occupations that add economic value through creativity (henceforth, "creative occupations") have drawn attention for their perceived contribution to economic growth in Western countries—especially in the face of deskilling, routinization, and technological advances that often move jobs to emerging markets like China and India. Yet, we know little about what prompts people to work in such occupations. This study examines how people enter and advance in creative occupations. Focusing on the case of advertising, I collected data through a survey distributed to a random sample of advertising professionals (N=351), thirty-six semi-structured interviews, and four months of participant observation within an advertising agency. Quantitative data were analyzed using advanced statistical techniques such as structural equation modeling, log-multiplicative models, and correspondence analysis; qualitative data were analyzed using grounded coding and content analysis. Key Results Inequality. This project highlights exclusionary mechanisms that shape entry and advancement in creative occupations. In such fields, the ambiguity of assessment involved in hiring and promoting leads evaluators to rely on signals that mask class privilege and gender stereotypes. Even the creative products themselves are not immune – accounts of what make an image or concept "good" vary by social background, gender, and occupation. As such, this project illustrates processes underlying the systematic exclusion of women and people with working-class backgrounds from some of the most desirable jobs in the new economy. Socialization. This project uncovers a positive relationship between early educational experiences that occur outside formal institutions (e.g., soccer practice, saxophone lessons, chess club) and adulthood occupational outcomes. Specifically, individuals who are exposed to a variety of different cultural activities during childhood are more likely to enter a creative occupation as an adult. This finding has important implications for K-12 educators, particularly at a time when states are cutting budgets for instruction in "non-essential" subjects. I show that such training is indeed essential – it contributes to future employment in knowledge-intensive work, including but not limited to the creative sector. Creativity. This project also explores how creativity is evaluated. Notoriously difficult to define and measure, creativity is nonetheless a valuable asset to individuals, organizations, and countries. By focusing on the social processes involved in evaluating creative goods, I uncover patterns underlying the ostensibly neutral process of creative assessment. Some patterns are conscious and likely guided by interest. For instance, creative directors in advertising use the assessment of creativity to defend their professions’ authority and expertise. Other patterns appear to be unconscious and are likely guided by habit. For instance, professionals with working-class backgrounds were more likely to describe what an image represented (e.g., the Mona Lisa is a painting of a woman), while those with early exposure to art were more likely to describe how this image was represented (e.g., the Mona Lisa is a haunting image). Both findings suggest that the evaluation of creativity – a process described as a search for "originality" or "novelty"– actually subtly reproduces the status quo.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Saylor Breckenridge
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University of Arizona
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