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 particular, 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.
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.