Age of the French classical audience

From time to time, people have mentioned in comments here a French government study that supposedly shows that the French classical music audience is very young, with a median age of 38.

I’ve never been able to find the source for this number. From some of what’s been said, I get the idea that it’s on a flyer handed out at concerts.

But the French Ministry of Culture tells a different story. You can go here to see the results of their 2008 study of French concert attendance, made available as a PDF file. Or go here if you’d like the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet. (Or here for an overview page, from which you can find out more about the study.)

The numbers are expressed in absolute terms — the number of people (in hundreds) in various age groups who attended classical concerts in the year the survey covered. And they’re broken down by age groups.

From that, it’s easy to find what percentage of the French classical music audience falls into the age groups the study specifies:

15-19               4%
20-24               4%
25-34             10%
35-44             18%
45-54             15%
55-64             24%
65 and over    26%

So this median age of 38 seems to be a myth. If we believe the French Ministry of Culture (which has been conducting these surveys for years), fully one-quarter of the French classical music audience is 65 or above. And exactly half of it — 50% — is 55 or older.

That means its median age is something around 55. (Since the median would be the point at which half the population in the study is older, and half is younger.)

This should advance the discussion that’s erupted here in comments from time to time, about the age of the classical music audience in Europe. Some people think it’s lower than it is in the US. But not in France, apparently.

Can anyone point me toward figures for other countries?

(Many thanks to Claudine Verdier- Dievochka for the links to these numbers. Here’s her website.)

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  1. Karstein Djupdal says


    Norway: I couldn’t find any statistics on age groups attending classical concerts. My own impression is however that it is similar here to the situation you describe in USA.

    But I did find other statistics on attendence to classical concerts. You might be interested.

    Statistics from the Norwegian Theater and Orchestra Association:

    I reproduce the numbers of the Oslo Philharmonic (audience/concerts):

    year 2000: 132932 154

    year 2001: 115200 110

    year 2002: 98820 103

    year 2003: 100057 104

    year 2004: 92219 99

    year 2005: 195975 108

    year 2006: 93120 96

    year 2007: 99175 90

    year 2008: 90000 89

    The numbers for all orchestras in Norway:

    year 2000: 337547 614

    year 2001: 326598 546

    year 2002: 362692 541

    year 2003: 341103 625

    year 2004: 355934 675

    year 2004: 355934 675

    year 2005: 480622 664

    year 2006: 359107 649

    year 2007: 406120 721

    year 2008: 350644 726

    The Oslo Philharmonic had a decrease in both audience and concerts. All orchestras together had an increase in number of concerts, but audience numbers is more or less the same. (Note: the year 2005 was a special celebration.)

    From Statistics Norway:

    Percentage of population who attended at least one classical concert:

    year 1991: 27

    year 1994: 34

    year 1997: 37

    year 2000: 37

    year 2004: 35

    Actually an increase over the last two decades! Maybe surprising, but possibly due to more opportunities to attend classical concerts in Norway recent years.

    Thanks, Karstein. Glad to have this data.

    And then — what does it mean? As you asked, why the increase during the last two decades? Though maybe if we had data earlier than 1994 and later than 2004, we’d see that the ups and downs were normal fluctuations inside an unchanging range.

    I’d also love to know how “classical music” was defined in the surveys that I assume these numbers come from. When people said they went to a classical concert, what kind of events were they thinking of? The US data excludes school performances (or at least the people surveyed were asked not to include school concerts). But I wonder if that’s true for data gathered elsewhere.

    There’s always so much interpretation to do, with numbers like these. And it’s difficult to compare statistics from one country to another, without knowing a lot about how the numbers were gathered.

    But it’s so good to have somewhere to start! Thanks again.

  2. Karstein Djupdal says

    Norway: Average age of audience. Numbers from 2004.

    Opera: 49

    Classical: 42

    Average age of population: 39

    The average age for opera and classical concerts increased from 1997 to 2004, even though average age of population decreased. Also, those with an university degree were much more likely to go to a classical concert, than those without.

    So the Norwegian audience seems to be aging. Thanks.

    The US audience also is more likely to have a university degree than people in the general population. I suspect that’s true around the world.

    Source (just a resyme of the study):

  3. Karstein Djupdal says

    Norway: Age groups. Which kind of concert did they attend recently? Percentage of those going to concerts, for each age groups. (They also list other genres).

    age…..classical/church music/contemporary






    The higher age groups were more likely to have been to a classical concerts, than the younger.

    Source: page 42 of publication from Statistics Norway:

  4. beedy says

    Your point is convincingly made, Greg.

    By the way, one little factoid I wondered about and thus looked up:

    the median age in France is about 40 ( Meaning that “38” was fishy to start with.

    Anyway, half the population in France is under 40, and about a third of the classical audience is; it would “feel” older.

    In the US, median age of the population as a whole is 36.7 – about 3 yrs younger. Last you wrote the median classical audience age was about 50. Let’s figure it’s up some = it’s about 15% higher, pretty much like that in France.

    But what percentage of the US classical audience is under 37 If you have that data on hand, Greg, that would help me get the concept even more clearly.

    According to the latest NEA figures, 20.3% of the classical audience is 34 or under.

    15.8% is 35 to 44. Figure, for the sake of getting a quick and dirty reading, that this percentage is equally distributed among the ages in this group. (It probably isn’t, but let’s go ahead anyway.) Then 1.58% of the audience is 36. Making 22.1% of the audience, roughly, under 37. Hope this helps.