Dynamics of Culture—2003-2005

Document Type

Working Paper




This paper addresses the implications of the winner-take-all economy for income inequality among artists. Using the U.S. census public-use samples, as refined by the Minnesota Population Center, it employs the standard measure of income inequality—the Gini coefficient—to examine income inequality among artists in six major metropolitan areas between 1980 and 2000. The paper compares income inequality among artists with that of other professional workers and among individual categories of artists. Finally, it examines inequality through the lens of ethnicity and gender.

The paper concludes that artists are an ‘old’ winner-take-all occupation. In 1980 artists displayed an unusually high degree of within-occupation inequality. However, artists’ inequality did not increase as quickly between 1980 and 2000 as that within the rest of the labor force. By contrast, in the general labor force, African American and female workers had a less unequal income distribution than the general population. Among artists, however, income was distributed more unequally among blacks and women.

Finally, the analysis finds significant variation in artists’ income inequality across metropolitan areas. The winner-take-all hypothesis would lead us to expect that metropolitan areas that are ‘global cities’ in the arts world—notably New York and Los Angeles—would have greater inequality than other cities. This is not the case, however. On the one hand, Los Angeles displayed the highest level of income equality among cultural workers. On the other hand, New York— where income inequality among all workers was generally higher than elsewhere—had among the lowest levels of artist income inequality.


SIAP's Dynamics of Culture research was undertaken from 2003 to 2005 with support by the Rockefeller Foundation.



Date Posted: 18 May 2017