The conventional wisdom is that young adults are not that engaged with museums. They don't visit much, and they find museums stale and boring.
My research, however, continues to find the opposite to be true. Indeed, young adults without children are nearly 50% more likely to visit museums than older adults. And last year, my research found that young adult museum-goers are pretty big museum fans; results from the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, as well as a broader population comparison sample, reinforces and extends these findings.
Before I share what's new from the latest research, a quick reminder of terms:
So what's new about young adults from this latest research?
Museum-goers. I've been known to say that "the do mores do more," and that is certainly true for young adult museum-goers. They are busy, packing more activities into their leisure time than any other segment of museum-goers. Indeed, during their leisure time, they are the most likely visitor segment to report spending time with friends, pursuing a personal hobby, having a nice meal, or even catching up on sleep. But with those activities comes a bit of a price … only 16% of young adults reported that at the end of leisure time they were "completely relaxed and ready for a new week." 41% report they had no chance to relax at all.
Broader population. When we step back and examine the broader population of young adults, including the majority who have not visited a museum recently, we find similar patterns to museum-goers: they are a busy segment of the population. In particularly, they were more likely to spend time with friends, pursue personal hobbies, and catch up on sleep.
One key difference, however, is that museum-goers simply do more; this broader population sample chose an average 3.6 activities from the list I provided, while museum-goers averaged 4.9. So while young adults are busy, young adult museum-goers are doing even more. But just like with museum-goers, relaxation is elusive; 43% reported they had no chance to relax at all.
The broader population survey included a question designed to elicit what types of museums would be more attractive to non-visitors. Just like young adults are more likely to have actually visited a museum, young adults chose the most types of museums they would be interested in visiting. In particular, they were nearly 50% more likely than any other segment to say they would like to visit an art museum. Overall, this indicates to me that young adults are a key target audience that is likely more interested in museums than conventional wisdom suggests.
Impact of museums.
Museum-goers. Young adult museum-goers are particularly enthusiastic about museums. Thus, it shouldn't be a surprise then that, when presented with a list of potential impacts museums might have had in their lives, they chose more impacts than any other segment of museum-goers. Their top impacts were: more knowledgeable; more curious about the world; and more well-rounded/broader horizons.
But I was curious myself to find that they were more likely than any other segment to say museums had made them more creative, promoted their cognitive health, and made them feel more connected to their community. This is worth exploring.
Broader population. Since young adults were the most likely to have visited a museum recently, it shouldn't be a surprise that, when considering the impact museums have on those who visit them, they selected the most impacts. In particular they were significantly higher than any other segment of the population to cite inspiring curiosity and, yes, creativity. And that creativity impact? It was by a mile. Young adults were 25% more likely than parents to cite it and 50% more likely than older adults, reinforcing that museums may find focusing on creativity is a good way to attract and engage younger adults.
The good news here is that young adults clearly like and enjoy museums. Museums matter to them. But I continue to suggest it is museums in the aggregate that matter, not one individual museum. That is, young adults are visiting a variety of museums, which means they are not necessarily making a deep enough connection with one museum to be on the email list, become a member, or even fill out a survey.
Given their visitation patterns, this begs the question of why a community of museums cannot get themselves together to offer a community-wide membership program for young adults. The goal is to engage them in museums overall at higher rates, and that means creating a value proposition that will hook them, open up more avenues for communication, and create more opportunities for individual museums to engage them more deeply. I'm going to be blunt and say that not doing this shows laziness on the part of museums. Yes, there are logistics to figure out, but the barriers to creating this type of membership are put there by museums themselves … not visitors.
And then there is the creativity piece. Since creativity appears to be so highly valued by young adults, museums are in a sweet spot to promote creativity more directly in their programming. But it also leads to some key questions to figure out, such as:
Over the coming months, I'll be exploring in far more detail the findings on leisure time and impact (among others), which will add to our contextual knowledge about young adults and other segments of the population. Stay tuned!
Do you value this research? Does it help you in your work at your museum? Do you want it to continue to help you and our field?
If so, consider how useful it would be to know how your museum's stakeholders feel about your museum, lifelong learning in museums, and more. By enrolling your museum in the 2019 Annual Survey of Museum Goers, you can easily benchmark the visitation rates, motivations, attitudes and preferences, and demographics of your stakeholders. Additionally, you can compare your results to your peers, begin to track them over time, and gain far more contextual information through your custom results and report. The fee for 2019 is only $1,000 per museum.
All good research yields even more questions.
And so it was with my 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers and broader population sampling. So many questions.
How do museums, and lifelong learning, fit into busy schedules? Why are individuals and families so siloed today? How can museums help? What else can we learn about The Parent Bubble? And what impacts do people (museum-goers but also the broader population) attribute to museums? (For more on what led me to these questions, check out the 2017 essays on The Data Museum or my PDF Research Releases and Data Stories.)
To begin to answer these questions (and yield more, of course), 14 museums partnered with me to field the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, as well as a broader population comparison sample. (You have already seen me share a key tidbit on curiosity.)
In particular, the surveys focused on the following themes:
As in 2017, I'll be releasing research findings in short essays on The Data Museum, and then pulling essays together by theme for release as PDFs for those who prefer that format. I'm deep in data right now (early April), but expect the essays to begin posting regularly within a few weeks.
And now, two additional notes:
Want to make sure you don't miss one of the upcoming data releases via The Data Museum? To subscribe by email, scroll up until you see the box on the right-hand side that says "To subscribe..." Click on "subscribe" and follow the prompts. (This gets around the mystery of why the box for entering your email address actually doesn't appear, though you can click in the empty white space of the box and find where to enter it, if you are so inclined.)
It was a simple question … and one that defied my expectations.
As a parent, what is more important for museums to focus on: inspiring curiosity in children about the world, or helping children perform better academically?
Except it isn't that simple a question, is it? It is a question weighted with value, and one that considers the different, yet complementary, roles played by museums and formal education.
Everything in my 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers made me expect that, if I were to ask this question of museum-going parents, I'd get a fair number to say better academic performance. After all, most museum-going parents are extrinsically motivated, and they tended to talk about those kinds of pragmatic outcomes when they commented on the value of museums.
Thus I suspected some, when asked so bluntly, would stick to those pragmatic goals, while other parents would pause a moment and go "oh, wait … that curiosity piece is actually really important." (I expected intrinsically-motivated parents, in contrast, to be all over the curious response.)
So I included the question in my 2018 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, and I projected about two-thirds of parents to say curiosity, and about a third to say academic performance.
I was wrong.
94% of museum-going parents want museums to focus on inspiring curiosity about the world in their children. Ninety-four percent. That is practically universal.
Surprised? Me too. Ecstatically.
But maybe museum-goers are outliers. After all, they tend to be outliers in other ways. What does the broader population of Americans want museums to focus on? To find out, I included the question in a broader population sample, refining it slightly to include responses from both parents and those without minor children.
76% of Americans agreed that inspiring curiosity about the world was more important than helping children perform better academically.
Or, to put it another way, Americans are three times more likely to want museums to focus on curiosity than academic performance.
This all begs the question … why?
Here's what I think. We all know that these two choices are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, we as a society should work to nurture inherent curiosity in children so that learning is a joy, yielding better academic outcomes (among other things). But over the past couple of decades, emphasis on academic performance has seemed to drown out that curiosity, that intrinsic motivation, in our national discussion on education. Which perhaps makes these results seem so surprising.
These results tell me that Americans highly value the role of curiosity in children's lives. That they realize it is a crucial part of education, and one that, let's be honest, the rigor and structure of school is not particularly well-suited for. Thus, things that cultivate curiosity, such as museums, are a critical underpinning of formal education, and help make successful formal education possible.
I've thought this through as a parent as well, and how museums and formal education work together. The rigor and structure of my son's public elementary school is providing something museums, and I as a parent, simply cannot: incremental, daily, focused, step-by-step learning that is comprehensive. That's extremely valuable. Museums, however, share with us all the amazing thing of being a human in this world, and all that it entails, and inspires my children to want to learn more. Together, that is what education is all about … a realization that curiosity is what helps many of us achieve personal and academic success.
The public values curiosity, and museums' role in cultivating it. Now we need to back up their belief in us by continuing and extending the work that we do while also providing evidence of this impact, and how it supports academic and personal excellence. Not by trying to out-school schools, but by being the effective foundation of curiosity and intrinsic motivation that makes personal and academic success far more likely.
A note about fielding research. I hold dear the idea that research for the field, about the field, should be shared with the field. But that only works when museums work together to make it possible. My thanks to the museums that participated in the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, which makes my sharing this research, and fielding broader population samples, possible.
If you value this research, want more of it in the coming years, and want to track your own museum's progress over time, please consider enrolling in the 2019 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers. Enrollment will open in May 2018, and the fee for 2019 will continue to be only $1,000.
One of the values I hold dear is that research conducted in our field should benefit the field. That's why I freely share the results of my research, particularly here, via The Data Museum.
We need to understand how museums improve lives. Help with human endeavors. Inspire and spark curiosity. Promote family connections in a world that is full of distractions. Contribute to our health and wellness. Help us make meaning in a complex world.
We need to do a better job of connecting museum experiences to these outcomes, making a case that not only are museums engaging, but they are critical to the well-being of all of as as individuals, communities, and a society.
This is the work that I do. One sample at a time.
But I need YOUR help to continue this critical research. I can only field this work when museums join together to provide not only a source for samples, but also minimal funding that I use to purchase broader population samples and push research deeper.
So please, if you value my work, and want to see more of it in the coming year, join the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers.
For your museum's $1,000 fee,* you'll receive your museum's custom results from the 2018 survey, including:
To enroll, simply fill out this short enrollment form.
For more information, please see this informational PDF, or get in touch with me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
*$1,000 fee applies to museums that launch their survey in January or February 2018; the fee increases to $3,000 for museums that launch March 1 or later.