THE STUDY MARCH 30, 2011
One of the biggest television events of the year occurred today: a semi-final match in the Cricket World Cup, which saw India defeat arch-rival Pakistan. Some estimates hold that over a billion people watched the game, and Pakistan’s government even declared a half-day holiday so people could watch it. But it’s a safe bet that Cricket World Cup viewership rates in the United States were much, much lower. The United States was, like India and Pakistan, once a British colony. So why didn’t cricket catch on here?
According to Harvard University’s Jason Kaufman and Orlando Patterson, the answer is that the American elites felt insecure about their social status. Unlike in England or India, which had strict social structures, the United States had a relatively large amount of social mobility. As a result, the researchers argue, the American elites who learned the game wanted to keep it as an upper-class pastime and thus made no efforts to popularize it in other social strata. In socially rigid India and in other similar places, by contrast, a system evolved in which people from lower social classes could play certain positions on teams led by wealthy amateurs. This arrangement--where the poor and the rich played side by side--helped increase the game’s popularity throughout society and ensured its longevity. American cricket, on the other hand, was a province only of the wealthy, so when they lost interest, the game died out.