Friday, November 8, 2013

What is so strange about the arts labor market?

Why are people drawn to work as an artist? This kind of job seems to have all the characteristics that one would like to avoid for a typical career: very low pay, usually the need to supplement income with another job, the most unequal distribution of income of any field, and with all this a chronic oversupply of labor. One may argue that one should set Economics aside for the arts labor market, but I do not believe that the love of arts can be the only explanation for this uncharacteristic labor market. People need to live, and if they love the arts they can always do this as a hobby.

Milenko Popović and Kruna Ratković find a better explanation. An artist's productivity is a function of accumulated art-specific human capital. If artists are forward-looking and they can cope with very low income during their formative years, it can then make sense to get into such a career. The issue is the uncertainty whether one's artistic career will actually pan out. This is where the oversupply comes in: many people start an artistic career to see how it works out, but eventually drop out. While all this makes intuitive sense this last part about uncertainty is largely hand-waved by the authors and should be subject to some serious quantitative exercise to see whether it can hold water with data, though. Thus, I am still not letting my children get into such careers.

1 comment:

Milenko Popovic said...

Thank's for posting link of our paper. We agree that this issue should be tested with some serious empirical research. Note, however, that this research should take a look not only at expected monetaru benefits but also at expected nonmonetary benefits of artistic activity. Also, regarding monetary benefits we should take a look not only at salaries of artists but also at dropouts salaries at new nonartistic activities. This is what make empirical investigation dificult: there is no appropriate data.