A few weeks ago, I shared new research about the motivations of parents who visit museums. They may not visit often (as little as once per year), but when they do go, most parents have extrinsic motivations, and only some have deep, inherent, intrinsic motivations about their own learning and enjoyment. Since the attitudes of parents affect the attitudes and behaviors of children, those differences likely matter from generation to generation.
But what about the broader population of parents? This graphic begins to break down the attitudes and behaviors of American parents towards museums.
Based on my conservative estimates, over half the American population of parents do not visit museums. At all. Museums are simply not on their radar screens. This includes:
For parents that do visit museums at least once a year, I have adjusted their numbers to reflect their relative share of the US parental population (not as a percentage of parents who visit museums, which is what I shared in my last post).
Stepping back, however, what's the big thing missing from the vast majority of parents? A strong, intrinsic motivation to visit museums as an enjoyable activity. And if the parents don’t inherently view museums as enjoyable, why would their children?
This does beg the question of how museums can do a better job of connecting, meaningfully, with both children and adults. Some museums do a better job with children, some with adults, and some do both well. But it is incumbent on all museums to meaningfully serve all ages if we are going to matter now and in the future.
Finally, as I said before, the purpose of the survey wasn't to examine parents in particular. During my analysis, I found myself digging deeper to understand what the data was saying about parents, but there is a lot more about all adults coming!
Methodology note: broader population sampling that is truly representative of the broader population is practically impossible. My sampling skews somewhat towards those with more education than the overall population, so I made sure I had a big enough sample for robust responses from those with less education to better inform my estimates. But even that is not completely sufficient, as even the best sampling methods still don't reach some parts of the population such as the extreme poor, the extreme elderly, recent immigrants, and more. I've conservatively hedged my estimates to try to accommodate this. If anything, my estimate that 55% of American parents do not visit museums is too low.
The questions for this survey have been inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who goes to museums, why they visit, and what that means for communities) and ongoing research in the fields of education and psychology around lifelong learning and intrinsic motivation.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.