Aging of Orchestra Audiences: Life Expectancy, Family Life Cycles, and Proportional Rescaling of Life Cycles


[C]lassical music has historically played to an adult audience, it’s just that the passage into adulthood—as indicated by first-marriage age—has been getting later and later, and the length of adulthood—as indicated by life expectancy—has been getting longer and longer.

This was one of the quotes by Matthew Guerrieri I posted in the first post of a series dealing with the Aging of Orchestra Audiences.  As I stated in that first post:

the average life-expectancy has maintained a consistent proportion to the median age since 1900 too (range between 46-49%) and that had to rise far faster relative to the median age of the population to remain so.

And as Guerrieri has stated, the rising median age tracks almost exactly with the trendlines for the rising median age of other events such as first marriage age (for both men and women) as well as the rising life expectancy at birth.

This phenomenon is known as Proportional Rescaling of Life Cycles in Demography (the statistical study of human populations).   Examples to illustrate this would be the ones given by Lee and Goldstein:

[S]uppose that an original 75-year life cycle were instead measured in units of six lunar months, or half-years. The new life cycle would be 150 units long instead of 75, but of course nothing would be different. (We use doubling as a convenient ex- ample, but we believe that a 15 percent increase in life cycle is more likely for the twenty-first century.) Every life cycle stage would last twice as long as before, measured in the new units. Every rate would be only half as great, since only half as many events would take place in 6 months as in 12 months. (Lee and Goldstein 2003, pg. 184)

When life expectancy has risen by one year from a low level such as 20, this one year has been distributed as follows: 0.7 years between 15 and 65; 0.2 years between 0 and 15; and only 0.1 year after 65. As life expectancy rises further, the incremental gains in childhood and the working ages decline, and the gains in old age rise. Further increases from the current life expectancy level of 77 years in the United States will be concentrated in old age, with 0.7 years coming after age 65 and hardly any coming before age 15. (pg. 188)

In other words if the first marriage age was 25 in the 75 year life cycle.  Then in a 150 year life cycle, we could predict the first marriage age to increase to 50 since the life cycle stage that would preceed the first marriage age would be doubled.  Obviously not every life cycle stage would double as there are certain biological constraints (female fertility) and cultural constraints (age of consent for marriage) which can affect the rescaling.

The way that Guerrieri and I have looked at the numbers suggests this rescaling effect of life cycles as an explanation for the rapidly rising median age of Orchestra Audiences.  Belk and Andreasen have long ago suggested that Family Life Cycles might be one of the most robust phenomenon to affect attendance at Arts Events (Belk and Andreasen 1982):

From the point of view of consumption, there are several other factors that vary systematically as the individual progresses through such a life cycle. Besides age and income, the individual’s needs and tastes change. Responsibilities for other family members change with the size of the family and the self-sufficiency of its members, and there are systematic changes in accumulated ex­perience, accumulated and desired durable goods, and accumu­lated savings and other liquid assets. Finally, when children and spouse are present, their needs, preferences and abilities are also changing as is the pattern of interaction for the family as a whole. (pg. 25)

The authors discovered that in four southern cities attendance declined at the Symphony and Theater when individuals were newly married and had children at home.  Andreasen has shown a curvilinear pattern for attendance based on family life cycles in his NEA report (Andreasen 1991) because as he states:

[A]s social scientists have noted for some time, age may not best describe an individual’s progress through life. A richer conception, the family life cycle, ~s incorporates age with marital status and the presence or absence of children to yield a set of “normal” life stages.

The life cycles and the percentages given by Andreasen:

  • 17.9% — Young, single
  • 10.7% — Young, married, no children
  • 08.7% — Children under six at home
  • 12.4% — Children six or older
  • 15.4% — Older, no children
[T]he relationship appears to be curvilinear. Those who are either young and single or older and with no children are those most likely to attend multiple events. Next most likely are those married with no children or married with children over six. Least likely to attend multiple events are those with children under six. The conclusion that young children at home inhibit rather than motivate involvement in the arts seems highly plausible. (Andreasen 1991 p. 26)

So as these life cycles expand and the median age of first births rise faster than the median age of the population as a whole, it shouldn’t be surprising that attendance at arts events would follow suit.  Add to that overlapping generations and we have a very complex set of issues with portions of the population with higher attendance going to events more or less frequently than others.  Obviously the largest cohort(s) (the Baby Boomers) will skew the numbers even more depending on any life cycle their attendance is measured relative to the population as a whole.

As Andreasen’s piece (1991) also discusses the role of other things — the typical socio-economic/education level/early exposure factors, as well time/cost/personal reasons — that can affect attendance with other robust findings, the complexity is magnified well beyond a valuation metric which relies on a simple calculus of the Arts’ (or Classical Music) decline or the lack thereof.

See the rest of the posts in the Aging of Orchestra Audience series.



Andreasen, Alan R. (1991) “Expanding the Audience For the Performing Arts,” Research Division Report #24 National Endowment for the Arts <<>>

Belk, Russell W., and Alan R. Andreasen (1982) “The Effects of Family Life Cycle on Arts Patronage,” Journal of Cultural Economics, Vol. 6, No. 2 (December), pp. 22-26.

Lee, Ronald, and Joshua R. Goldstein (2003) “Rescaling the Life Cycle: Longevity and Proportionality” in Carey, James R. and Shripad Tuljapurkar (eds.). Life Span: Evolutionary, Ecological, and Demographic Perspectives, Supplement to Population and Development Review, vol. 29, 2003. New York: Population Council <<>>

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