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New research suggests that British parents encourage their children to play musical instruments as part of a family tradition, while Americans pursue them as a way to boost their social status.

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Dr Aaron Reeves from Oxford University's Department of Sociology found that British parents did not see musical achievement by their children as character building or useful in getting university places or jobs. Instead, it was usually only those parents who played instruments who encouraged their children to follow suit, he says in an article in the journal Cultural Sociology.

Dr Reeves, who analysed interviews with 44 people in the UK, says: 'Respondents do not strongly associate musical practice with developing valued character traits nor with social or educational attainment. Instead, parental encouragement to play music is shaped by family ties and the parental perception of natural talent in their children.'

This contrasted with research carried out by other academics in America, he said. 'Middle-class parents in the United States appear to associate cultural practice with other forms of utility, such as developing specific character traits and facilitating educational success. Middle-class families are very often marked by a pattern of "concerted cultivation", where parents organise music-centred activities for their children, often in addition to school-based musical practice.

Read more on the University website (opens new window)