Survey links museum visits with higher levels of happiness

Geraldine Kendall, 12.09.2012
But latest DCMS figures indicate a drop in museum visits by five to 10 year olds
The latest data from the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s (DCMS) rolling survey into cultural participation appears to show a significant link between engagement with culture, including museum and gallery visits, and levels of subjective happiness.

The Taking Part survey, which covers England and is compiled and updated every three months by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows an increase in levels of individuals’ subjective happiness between 2005, when the survey began, and 2012, with the average happiness score rising from 7.3 to 7.9 in that period.

Those who had engaged with heritage in the past 12 months reported significantly higher happiness scores (8.0) compared with those who had not (7.6).

Engagement with museums and galleries is particularly linked to greater levels of happiness among women, the survey shows, while participation in arts and heritage was found to increase happiness regardless of income.

The data demonstrates the impact cultural activities have on wellbeing, claims the report, though it says that there is not yet a clear understanding of the causal links between the two.

The survey writes: “There is a need to better understand the reasons for these findings in order to enable potential enhancement of subjective wellbeing through policy and initiative design in these sectors.”

The Museums Association’s head of policy, Maurice Davies, said the findings fit with the MA’s own research into the impact museums and galleries can have on individuals and communities, which is being conducted as part of the Museums 2020 campaign.

Davies said: “I think this is very interesting because ‘happiness and wellbeing’ is one of the emerging trends in the thinking about the impact of museums that we’ve identified in Museums 2020.”

Young visitors

But the Taking Part survey also shows a significant drop in the proportion of children and teenagers who reported visiting a museum in the last 12 months between 2010/11 and 2011/12.

The proportion of visits by five to 10 year olds fell from 68% to 61% in that period, while the number of visits by five to 15 year olds dropped from 65% to 61%.

However, the survey showed that the percentage of children who reported visiting a heritage site in the past week is continuing to rise, standing at 12% in 2011/12 compared to 5% in 2008/09.

Scotland

Meanwhile, a Scottish Household survey has revealed that 87% of adults in Scotland engaged in culture in 2011.

The figures show an increase in the proportion of people who visited a museum or gallery in the past year, rising from 26% to 28% for museums and 17% to 18% for galleries.

The data also reveals high levels of satisfaction with local authority museum services, with 90% of respondents who had visited a museum in the past year saying they were “very satisfied” or “fairly satisfied” with the service.

Among all respondents, including non-visitors, satisfaction with their local authority museums service rose from 38% in 2010 to 44% in 2011.  


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