When asked what career they would choose if finances were not a concern, a plurality of Harvard seniors chose the arts, with 16 percent indicating it as their “dream” field. Similarly large numbers of students chose public service (12.5) and education (12), while finance and consulting trailed with five percent each.
This is from last year; this year’s edition, assuming they are repeating it, should be out soon. [UPDATE: it is, and the number has fallen to 14%. Public service is up more than 4 points to 16.9%, giving it the top spot.)
Why is this important for arts advocacy? Think about this way. Harvard seniors are literally some of the best and brightest* that this country, not to mention several other countries, has to offer. Because of their high education and ability, they carry with them tremendous lifetime income-generation potential, both for themselves and for their communities. From the perspective of local and state governments, Harvard grads are like giant, magnetic sacks of cash walking around, because not only are they likely to earn a substantial living over their lifetimes — meaning that they are likely to pay substantial taxes over their lifetimes — but so are their friends, and the people they will probably date and marry. And guess what? They like to be around their friends and partners and spouses. Which means that if one of them moves, don’t be surprised to see others follow.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that one-sixth of all Harvard ’09 grads could choose any career, any career at all, they would choose the arts. We know that that is more than said the same for any other career. And thus it strongly implies that a pretty substantial proportion of our nation’s perennial overachievers, people who you can bet are going to play decidedly outsized roles in the local economies of wherever they live, care a lot about the arts.
Via (of course) Richard Florida.
* For the doubters on this point: yes, it is true that socioeconomic privilege unfairly tips the scales in all sorts of ways when it comes to applying to college generally. On the other hand, it is worth noting that due to aggressive liberalization of financial aid policies and various diversity initiatives in recent years, admission to Harvard and other elite schools approaches meritocracy to a greater degree now than at any other time in history.