Researchers say parents and carers are being “pushed out” of arts careers due to low wages and a lack of job security.

Four out of every ten people who leave careers in the performing arts do so because of the difficulty of balancing the work with being a parent, new research suggests.

The survey of over 2,000 current or former arts workers, carried out by Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) and Birkbeck, University of London, found that 43% of respondents who had left the industry cited being a parent as the biggest factor behind their decision to leave.

The survey also found that 76% of parents and carers have turned down work because of childcare responsibilities.

Balancing act

The headline findings of the ‘Balancing Acts’ survey, which included over 1,000 parents and carers within its sample, were published in October, revealing the £3k a year “career penalty” faced by parents and carers working in the arts.

The full survey report, released this week, provides further details of the challenges faced by people with caring responsibilities trying to maintain careers in the arts.

These include findings that of the parents and carers who remain in the sector, many are no longer working in the roles they are trained for, and that parents and carers have to seek proportionally more work outside the performing arts to top up their income.

The survey also found a particularly strong desire for shared parental leave among self-employed workers, with 73% of self-employed respondents saying they would take up this opportunity if available, compared to 63% of employed workers.

Work-life balance, workload, working hours and job security were among the biggest challenges faced by all arts workers.

Call for change

Professor Almuth Mc Dowall, who led the research for Birkbeck, said the survey showed evidence of “parents and carers pushed out of performing arts careers due to low wages, lack of job security, fears about long-term prospects and a difficulty to combine their work with other roles in life”.  

Responding to the survey, principal dancer at the Royal Ballet Federico Bonelli commented on how the pressure on parents and carers can lead to a less inclusive workforce: “As artists we strive to be relevant to our world, we want our art to be seen by as diverse audiences as possible. To achieve this it is essential that the people creating the work have wide-ranging lived experiences and are as diverse as possible”.

Actor Cate Blanchett joined the calls for change, saying: "Working in theatre or any creative profession can be very rewarding but comes with its own unique challenges, such as regular late nights, last minute engagements and long periods of time away from home, all of which are amplified when you have family commitments.

“The Balancing Act report is a welcome and necessary step towards addressing these barriers which for many prove insurmountable. This call-to-arms is an opportunity for us all to step up and find the creative solutions needed to giving people the support they need to look after their family whilst continuing to do the work they love."