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03 September 2015

Millennials and diversity: the cases of politics, music and religion

Posted by: Hannah Cunningham, Politics Student at the University of Manchester


The vast majority of Millennials in the UK and the USA value equality of opportunity for people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and races (86% in both territories). Despite this,representation of some of those categories is low in political, music and religious establishments. Could the liberal views of Millennials in regards to equality explain part of the reason they have turned away from institutions which don’t share their values? And, if that is true, what about the Millennials who do engage with these establishments?


  • Gender: The Millennial Dialogue report shows that a minority of Millennials in both the UK and the USA see the gender balance in politics as ‘about right’ (44% in the US and 39% in the UK). And they have a point. 29% of MPs in the UK Parliament and less than a third of cabinet ministers are women, along withfewer than one in four peers in the House of Lords. In the USA, only one in five senators is female, and slightly less than 20% of the House of Representatives is made up of women.
  • Race: Although, with 6% MPs from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, the 2015 Parliament is the most racially diverse ever, this is representative of less than half of the non-white members in the general population (which currently stands at around 14%). Although we would expect the number of BAME MPs to increase as their share of the population increases, comparing current figures with the 2001 census shows that the share of the general population has risen around 6%, while the share of MPs has only risen 4%. This indicates that while there are increasing numbers of BAME MPs in Parliament, it is actually becoming less representative of the general population. Additionally, when we look at the races represented by these BAME MPs we see that certain groups are under-represented still. 2015 saw the election of the first ever MP from a Chinese and East Asian background, Alan Mak, meaning that although estimates put the East Asian population of the UK at 1.6%, their representation in Parliament is just under 0.2%.

The figures are the same in the USA, a record 17% of Congress are people of colour, compared with nearly double that (38%) of the general population.

  • Age: Age is a more difficult variable to compare because most people will experience being both young and old, while the same cannot be said about more fixed demographic features like race and gender. It seems as though more people, therefore, should feel able to be represented by older generations because they were young once, and so should be more relatable. Additionally, the biases that favour older generations in politics are less based on historical and social prejudices, and more on the dependence of political success on experience, connections, and (more of an issue in the USA) money. All of these things are most likelyaccumulated over a long lifetime and as such contribute to the higher average age of politicians. We should also bear in mind that age-limits apply to different positions in the USA while to hold office in the UK you only have to be 18. Additionally, the scrapping of most hereditary peers’ entitlement to sit in the House of Lords and instead the appointment of ‘Life Peers’ adds a bias towards older members because children of lords are no longer sitting members and a person must have notable achievements or skills, which they are more likely to have if they are older.

Still, the average age of an MP in the House of Commons is 50, for a Peer in the House of Lords it is 69, for a representative in the House is 57 and for a Senator is 62. This contrasts with data in the Millennial Dialogue report which suggests Millennials’ ideal politicians would be aged between 35 and 45. Whether or not the advantages of age hold true when it comes to politics, these differences mean that Millennials aren’t getting the diversity they (apparently) want in their political institutions.



  • Gender: Creative and Cultural Skills report that less than one-third of all music industry-related jobs are held by women, while the remaining 68% are filled by men. Statistics from the US Labor Departmentpublished in 2015 only produce statistics which also include performing arts and sports spectator jobs, these show a lesser degree of inequality than in the UK (44% women to 56% men).

Recent analysis by the Guardian, too, shows that out of 12 major UK music festivals this summer, theadvertised line-ups are 86% male (270 women are booked to play compared with 2,336 men). This is perhaps surprising because, although of course the bands booked to play are going to depend on who has had success with record sales, radio plays, and other factors controlled by other areas of the music establishment, live music is the industry which Millennials engage with the most. If they value equality, we might expect that they would demand more equal representation in their chosen area. In a similar vein to diversity in politics, however, I would argue that Millennials most value equality in its simplest form – thelack of overt barriers to participation, rather than, in a more complex way, tackling underlying issues (the misogynist tradition in rap and hip-hop,interlinking of brands which degrade women/fetishize female music fans and alternative rock bands, more focus on the appearance and image of female artists than their male counterparts) which hinder participation.

  • Race: Though music as an industry is hard to isolate when looking at ethnic minority representation, UK Department for Culture Media and Sport national statistics published in 2014 show that just 7% of all of the jobs in the music and performing arts industries were held by BAME workers (compared with the 14% of the population which they make up). Statistics published by the US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014 show that the proportion of black/African American, Asian, and Hispanic or Latino people working in ‘Independent artists, performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries’was just over one in five (21.3%), despite the fact that they make up 38% of the population.

There is also evidence of, and much discussion about, less quantifiable instances of racial inequality in music. These complaints are about things like cultural appropriation and amarketing preferencefor (in both of these territories, at least) white musicians over those from BAME backgrounds. This is true especially as free access to music on the internet has helped to break down cultural barriersto music genres. For example, the apparent fetishization of black women and forms of dancing by Miley Cyrus, Azealia Banks’ claims about the appropriation of black music by white hip-hop and rap artists like Iggy Azalea, the passing over of Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda video for a VMA best music video despite it breaking the record for views on Vevo.

It is plausible that the racial imbalance seen in those employed within the music industry has contributed to such instances of appropriation and inequality. Many claims on this topic are substantiated by a general feeling in the industries in these territories that conventionally attractive artists (and this normally entails being white, as well as other characteristics, like being thin for women or muscular for men) are more marketable. This is thought to come from problems ofpresenting certain groups in society as the ‘norm’, and so as artists they are not thought to be restricted to niche areas of the market. Additionally, by virtue of being the racial majority in both territories, most music consumers are white and there is a pre-supposed feeling that white fans will more readily buy an album from a white artist – this was apparently part of Dr. Dre’s logic for taking Eminem on. An artist’s marketability can be, then, ranked above their talent. This paves the way for cultural appropriation, in theory, because it allows for certain aspects of the very cultures which are deemed less saleable to be profited from by artists who, because they are not from those cultures, don’t experience the same discrimination at the hands of record companies (and, by extension, the record companies profit also).

Recognition of the impact of racial inequality may have contributed to the decline in power of the major record labels as Millennials increasingly rely on streaming services. Streaming services havelittle to no A & R function and as such feature such a broad range of artists that it is easier for Millennials to access the more diverse musicians who might otherwise have no platform.

This does not completely combat the problem, however, because record labels do still have influence (thanks to their [declining] economic power) over which artists become the‘superstars’. These artists remain dominant on streaming services because, when faced with a choice of tens of millions of songs, Millennials will experience a type of choice paralysisand tend to stick with the songs they know from radio plays or ad campaigns. For this reason it was reported in 2013 that 20% of the tracks on Spotify (4 million) had never been played.

Additionally, as I have mentioned, the problems of discrimination seem to pervade into the live music industry, which is thriving among Millennials.

While such claims are difficult to support with quantitative data, it is worth bearing them in mind in order to gauge the big picture when it comes to racial representation in the music industry.



  • Gender: Data from AudienceNet’s Audiomonitor UK 2015 survey shows that Millennials are significantly more likely than the general population to identify as religiously unaffiliated and data from the Pew research centre shows the same to be true of Millennials in the USA. The data in both sources, however, shows that while affiliation in general is in decline, certain denominations are surviving. Catholicism has remained constant and the data shows significantly higher levels of affiliation among the eldest Millennials in the UK. The groups ‘historically black Protestants’ and ‘other Christian’ have held relatively constant levels of affiliation in the USA, while the only category whose membership is (slightly) higher than in previous generations is ‘other groups’ (whose membership is double among younger Millennials what it is among the Silents).

Millennials in the UK are significantly moving away from the established state religion(Anglicanism) just as it allows the ordination of female bishops but not away from Catholicism which doesn’t allow women to be priests. There is a chance that the authority of religion, once it has won Millennials’ trust, is no longer subject to the kind of critiques we would imagine. It is perhaps in the nature of religion to hold onto some degree of inherent, unproven authority, with Millennials either accepting those terms or leaving completely (which many are). This is an approach which is not taken by music or politics, the structures of which better allow the unaffiliated or the sceptical to participate formally or casually.

There is evidence that the declining engagement of Millennials with the church has been spurred on by the alienation of a generation who hold very socially liberal views compared to their predecessors. In the USA this is not only true among the Democrats or left-leaning Millennials (although they make up the majority). The fact that the same generation is increasingly religiously unaffiliated is not a coincidence, either; According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, Millennials were a lot more likely than the general US population to agree that the Church’s stance on lesbians and gays was ‘alienating’ (70% agreement compared to 58%); additionally, among Millennials who had left the church, 17% claimed that the Church’s views on LGBT issues were ‘somewhat’ or ‘very important’ in their decision to leave. Having progressive views about inequality in terms of sexual orientation and gender identification would suggest that such views are also held with regard to gender equality, and that such issues would, too, persuade them to leave the church.

An important difference between the existence of inequalities in music and politics and those in religion are that while the music industry and political establishments often haveimplicit biases towards those who are white, male, and of a certain age, discrimination on the grounds of gender is aningrained part of the Catholic church (and other Christian denominations and religions, too, but the focus is on Catholicism since this is where religion has survived the most among Millennials). This isnot a matter of perpetuating prejudicesthrough personal or institutional judgment, but is theactive exclusion of groups from certain practices.

  • Race: The impact of race on religious affiliation is hard to judge because of the lack of consistent data on the topic. There is some evidence, though, that racial diversity is low in the Church of England – statistics published by the Archbishop’s Council in 2012 show that, while between 7% and 32% of the Clergy surveyed chose not to disclose their race, of those who did, 94% of the Anglican clergy were white British (rising to 97% if all white backgrounds are included). Poor representation of races in the clergy might be a factor encouraging Millennials to not affiliate themselves with Anglicanism. Priests ordained by the Catholic Church in the USA, however, were just 67% white, much closer to being representative of the general population (62%). Since significantly fewer Millennials (especially the younger age groups) affiliate with Catholicism, we can assume that this is not a particularly important factor for Millennials. This could, again, be explained by the inherent authority that religion has among the religious.


Millennials, then, can be seen as far more sensitive to overt discrimination – like the formal exclusion of certain groups – than to much more subtle structures and microagressionswhich limit diversity. Their understanding of equality is much more concerned with the absence of formal or even legal barriers to participation than it is with bridging gaps by understanding the deeply ingrained discriminatory practices.

A main theme of this project about Millennials and their attitudes to establishments is that trust is the basis of authority, and where the clash between Millennials’ views about equality and an institution’s failure to accommodate people in certain groups is less overt, these institutions can win their trust in spite of discriminatory practices.