As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been posting a lot about the age of the classical music audience. The current myth is that this audience has always been as old as it is now, but all the data I’ve found says the opposite — the classical audience has been getting older at least since 1937, when the earliest data I’ve found was collected. See my post on audience age for more details.
And now — thanks to a tip from a marketing director I know — I’ve found more data, giving even more support from my view. It’s in a very good book on audience development, Waiting in the Wings: A Larger Audience for the Arts and How to Develop It, published in 1992 by Bradley G. Morison, Julie Gordon Dalgleish:
In 1955, in one of the earliest such projects on record, the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra) retained a market research firm to conduct a survey of audiences. Among other findings, the research showed that the median age of the audience was about 33 years.
A comparable study was done in 1985, and the median age had increased to about 48 years.
Four years later, a 1989 survey showed the median age at nearly 51 years.
In 34 years, the median age of the audience had increased by nearly 18 years while the median age of the total population inn the United States rose only about 3 years. It appears very likely that many in the current audience are the same people, grown up.
Note that last sentence. I’m saying the same thing now. Morison and Dalgleish said it in 1992. And note their tentative conclusion:
If [everything I've just quoted is true], those “retiring” from the audience are not being replaced by an equivalent number from the younger generations, and it would appear that the proportion of Yeses [people ready to say "yes" when an orchestra asks them to buy concert tickets] among the young is substantially smaller than it was several decades back. Could it be that the Yeses are a vanishing breed?
Again, they said that in 1992! But their book also has data, from the American Symphony Orchestra League, showing attendance at orchestra concerts peaking in the mid-1980s, and declining after that. The League’s current data shows a decline that began in the mid-’90s. And I’ve seen private figures showing a decline — for the largest orchestras — beginning in 1990. But did it start even earlier?
And about the proportion of Yeses among the young: The National Endowment for the Arts found that the percentage of people under 30 at classical concerts dropped in half between 1982 and 1997. So Morison and Dalgleish seem to be on track with this data, too.