Research Article: School’s out forever? Heavy metal preferences and higher education

Date Published: March 19, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Martin Hällsten, Christofer Edling, Jens Rydgren, Atte Oksanen.


Cultural behaviors are theoretically linked to future life chances but empirical literature is scant. We use heavy metal as an example of cultural identities due to its high salience. We first assess the social morphology of metal preferences in terms of socio-economic and socio-structural positions, and then asses the short term outcomes of being a heavy metal fan on education and health behaviors.

The analysis was based on a representative random stratified sample of 23-year-olds of native Swedish, Iranian, and Yugoslavian background in contemporary Sweden (n = 2,232). Linear probability models with multiple imputation were used to calculate preferences for metal music and the association of metal preferences with subsequent outcomes.

In contrast to many prior studies, we find that the preference for heavy metal is not structured by social background or neighborhood context in Swedish adolescents. Poor school grades tend to make them more prone to like metal, but net of previous grades, social background, personality, personal network, and neighborhood characteristics, metal fans have substantially lower transition rates into higher education.

The study suggest that metal preferences appears rather unsystematically with few important predictors, and is linked to lower education attainments in the short run. While these findings are specific to heavy metal as a certain type of culture and to Swedish adolescents, we suggest that they are indicative of how cultural consumption may play a role for life-chances.

Partial Text

Cultural preferences and behaviors are integral to adolescents’ lives. Cultural consumption is key to their social identities, hierarchically structuring their lifeworld. Adolescents’ cultural consumption is not only a reflection of their parents’ social standing, but also an effect of their own agency and is influence by their school and peer environment. Cultural consumption during the formative years of adolescence may have long-term consequences through the choice of identity and of friends and acquaintances, and may affect for example educational attainment and behavioral outcomes. Music is a pervasive and strong form of cultural expression that tends to be central to the development of identity, and also to the formation of subcultures.

We find that metal preferences among young Swedes are not structured by socioeconomics and social structure. The only key predictors of being a metal fan that we find are gender (being male), immigration status (having native-born parents), having few immigrants in one’s personal networks, the extent and quality of one’s occupational social capital, and previous school grades. Parents’ socioeconomic resources, subjects’ cultural capital, network characteristics other than immigrant density, neighborhood characteristics, and personality do not predict metal preferences. The outcome of metal preferences is a lower transition rate into university by age 23. Net of all confounding factors, the metal fans had a 7 percentage points, or 13 percent, lower transition rate than those having mainstream preferences. We did not find any effects on career aspirations, or health outcomes (except a lower, not higher, prevalence of cannabis smoking). We also investigated whether a combination of metal preferences and indicators of having a stronger sense of identity coming from music moderates these findings, but this appears to not be the case. Hence, it is the preference for metal, regardless of any other identifications and regardless of strength of the devotion to metal, that drives the results. Our definition of metal is broad and should be seen as an average across many subgenres. Since many subgenres have more extreme ideologies (but with low representation in our sample), it is highly likely that metal has heterogeneous effects, even though our design does not allow us to decipher this further.




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