3 Unconventional ways to measure culture


Under article 167 of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union (EU) ‘shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common heritage to the fore’. But what is culture? And how can we quantify it?

Eurostat has just released the third edition of its Culture Statistics publication, which outlines a myriad of indicators that can be used to analyse the area.

Compared to previous editions, the 2016 publication has revised the methodology for calculating cultural employment, enterprises, public and private expenditure, and participation, to include a number of unconventional metrics that help paint a more holistic view of Europe’s cultural and creative sectors. We compiled a roundup of three such methodological developments.

1. Cultural employment

The report’s statistical concept of cultural employment is derived from the methodology proposed by the European Statistical System Network on Culture its 2012 report, which combines classifications provided by the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO) and the statistical classification of economic activities in the European Community (NACE).

Yet, a 2011 change in the ISCO classification system means that there are limitations in looking at cultural employment over time. Previous attempts to identify and isolate cultural occupations had become out of date as a result of technological developments and the associated changes in the nature of work. New categories were therefore established to allow for the identification of emerging occupational groups, whilst others were merged, split or moved to reflect changes in the labour market. Although this updated methodology arguably allows for a more complete view of employment, it meant that some cultural occupations, like architects, were aggregated under unrelated codifications that are not considered in the calculation of cultural employment.

To minimise the impact of the old classification system on employment figures for reference years 2008–2010, the number of lost occupations was estimated on the basis of 2011 data. For example, an estimated 202 000 architects EU-wide would have been left out of account in 2011 if the old classification had been used. In all, around 500 000 cultural occupations are in the same situation, accounting for 0.43% of total employment. Following that rationale, the adjustment was computed for each country and then applied to reference years 2008–2010, relying on a stability assumption: it was assumed that, between 2008 and 2011, occupations not identified under the old classification were stable as a share of total employment. However, it was possible to estimate this adjustment only for countries that provided the highest level of detail for NACE and ISCO in 2011. The EU level adjustment for each category of breakdown (sex, age, educational attainment) was applied to all other countries.




Image: Cultural employment and total employment, EU-28, 2008–14. Source: Eurostat.

2. Population interest in cultural heritage

As part of a pilot project that explored big data for official statistics, Eurostat developed an experimental indicators that used Wikipedia page views as a gauge of population interest in cultural heritage.

The indicator harnessed data on the number of page views per month for all World Heritage Site articles across Wikipedia’s 31 language versions.

Wikipedia articles were selected for each of the 1031 World Heritage Sites included on UNESCO’s 2015 list. The initial selection was based on the categorisation feature in the English version of Wikipedia, and then other language versions of the same articles where selected. Ultimately, data analysis was based on the number of page views of around 50000 articles.


Image: Top 20 World Heritage Sites in number of page views of related Wikipedia articles, 2015 (number of views in million). Source: Eurostat.

3. Use of the internet for cultural purposes

Whether it is creating and sharing cultural content online, streaming concerts, or virtually visiting cultural institutions, the internet has emerged as a major facilitator of cultural participation. To capture this shift from analogue to digital participation, the 2015 indicators also incorporate new gauges of online cultural activity. For example, it includes a measure of cloud storing or sharing of cultural content. This indicator is derived from the 2014 Community survey on ICT usage in households and by individuals, and provided data specific to the cloud-based storage or sharing of e-books, online magazines, music, photography, film and television. Leveraging this data, Eurostat found that the use of cloud services was quite widespread in Denmark and the United Kingdom with 46% and 42% of internet users reporting such activities. Conversely, the lowest usage of cloud services was in Romania, Poland and Lithuania (15% or less of internet users).


Image: Use of cloud services for storing or sharing cultural content, 2014. Source: Eurostat.


Explore the full list of indicators here.

Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões.