Growing up, your parents may have told you that getting tattooed is a bad idea. That it “sends the wrong message.” That you’ll “never find professional employment.” That people will consider you to be a delinquent, irresponsible, or not to be trusted. You may have thought to yourself, “I’m not a delinquent — I just want a tattoo. Is that so bad?”
Well, nowadays, studies show the answer is “no.” It isn’t so bad. In fact, it may even be beneficial in some circumstances.
Let’s take a look at a study conducted in August 2018 by the University of Miami and University of Western Australia Business Schools. This study was published in the scholarly journal Human Relations. Over 2,000 people from all 50 states were surveyed for this eye-opening analysis of professional perceptions. In a nutshell, what this study revealed is as follows:
- There is no perceptible wage difference between tattooed and non-tattooed individuals.
- In some instances, tattooed job hunters are more likely to be hired than non-tattooed candidates.
It may sound a little too good to be true for some, so let’s delve into the “nitty gritty” particulars:
Firstly, let’s not be mistaken: employment and wage discrimination against individuals with tattoos still exists. Factors such as the quality of a candidate’s tattoos, resume, and communication skills can all contribute to how their body art is perceived.
While this bias still exists, the lead author of this study, Michael French, who is a professor of health economics at Miami’s business school, proclaims that discrimination against body art could place hiring managers at a large disadvantage. It’s important to consider that roughly 40% of young adults are tattooed, many of whom are degree-holders with impressive resumes.
Secondly, it’s important to consider a (perhaps brow-raising) detail this study unveiled. Imagine two men are applying for the same job: one is tattooed and one is not. This study found that the tattooed man may have a higher likelihood of getting the job than the non-tattooed man. Now, imagine two women are applying for the same job: one is tattooed and one is not. This study revealed that neither woman has an advantage over the other.
While we can only speculate why a tattooed male candidate may have an advantage over a non-tattooed male candidate (and the same advantage is not seen between two female job candidates), this study at the very least suggests that tattoos are not only becoming less taboo, but more appealing — even advantageous.
Thirdly, a previous study conducted by professors at Colorado and California State universities came to the opposite conclusion: there is indeed a hiring and wage bias against people with tattoos of any kind, regardless of quality or placement.
While this study came to a different conclusion, it’s important to consider this does not discredit the Human Relations study. Different samples of people were used, and this study cannot take away from the statistics revealed by the 2016 Harris Poll.
The 2016 Harris Poll gathered the following data after surveying 2,225 adults in the United States:
- 3 out of 10 Americans have at least one tattoo.
- Among tattooed individuals, 7 out of 10 have two or more tattoos.
- The millennial generation is the most tattooed, with 47 percent of millennials sporting body art.
More details and statistics on this 2016 poll can be found in this article by Dana Wilkie on the Society for Human Resource Management.
What we can gather as workers in the industry is clear: the public’s perception of tattoos seems to become more accepting almost by the day. Since the Harris Poll was conducted in 2016, it isn’t unreasonable to assume the percentage of tattooed millennials and people in general has grown. Additionally, think of all the milestones in tattooing culture we’ve seen in recent years: the widespread growth of custom, appointment-only studios; the popularization of styles like hyperrealism and new school; and now, scholarly studies indicating that wage and hiring biases are at the very least diminishing.
It goes without saying that tattooing is no longer taboo. Even with some hiring managers still holding onto old biases, it is now very possible, and even likely, to be a tattooed, hired professional.