Picture for arts sector earnings still as blurred as ever

Workers in the broader arts, entertainment, recreation and other service activities sector remain among the lowest-paid

Struggling artists and arts workers who caught a glimpse of this week’s headlines noting that the biggest rise in earnings here in the fourth quarter of 2023 could be found in the arts sector might be a little confused by this apparent good news.

They would be right to be puzzled. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the “arts sector” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here, with the full title of the category stretching to “arts, entertainment, recreation and other service activities”. This sector, which encompasses the “R” and “S” Nomenclature of Economic Activities (NACE) codes, does indeed include the performing arts, artistic creation, the operation of arts facilities and various support services, as well as a range of cultural activities from museums and libraries to historical sites and gardens.

But it also includes sports and recreation, gambling and betting, a range of trade union and professional membership organisation activities, personal services from dry cleaning and hairdressing to funerals, and the repair of personal and household goods.

Workers in this broader “R-S” sector saw their average weekly earnings rise 9.8 per cent from €590.81 to €649 in the fourth quarter, according to preliminary estimates from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). In percentage terms, this was well ahead of the 2.1 per cent rise in earnings for workers across the economy – a welcome uplift, even if who exactly is enjoying a pay increase is a touch blurry.


While there may be an element of post-pandemic bouncing-back going on here, the historical figures also show that workers in “arts, entertainment, recreation and other service activities” have seen their average weekly earnings rise by the second-highest percentage over the past five years, with only information and communication sector workers recording a larger percentage growth in their average earnings.

The bad news is that weekly earnings for the “R-S” economic sector are a long way behind the €921.81 national average, with only accommodation and food services – a sector notoriously battling to retain staff – paying less.