Once considered a rebel stamp, tattoos are now commonplace in the U.S.
But just because a lot of people have them, 40 percent of households now include someone with a tattoo, doesn’t mean they don’t say a lot about a person, and not all of it good.
According to Bloomberg columnist Peter Orszag, tattoos are especially prevalent in less-educated families. Half of people with a high school diploma either have a tattoo or share a household with a tattooed person. That’s compared to just 22 percent of people who have attended graduate school. According to Bloomberg, a 2004 revealed:
Tattoos were much more likely to be found among younger adults and among people with three or more days of jail time, with military service, or with any experience with recreational drugs. In general, these findings fit the expected pattern that tattoos are most popular with people who are less educated and who engage in riskier behavior.
A more recent study found that adorning your body with permanent art doesn’t impact your earnings. The study showed that although those with tattoos tend to earn less, it had more to do with education and other characteristics than ink.
“Tattooed workers tend to earn less than the average, but they would earn less than the average even without a tattoo,” says Bloomberg.
However, body ink could potentially impact your likelihood of getting hired. A study by Coastal Carolina University determined that having visible tattoos decreased the probability of well-qualified restaurant workers landing a job by 18 percentage points, decreasing it from 88 percent (with no visible tattoos) to 70 percent (with arms fully covered by tattoos).
Interestingly, female applicants with visible tattoos in that study were more negatively affected than males.
Some companies, such as Starbucks, are reconsidering their dress code policy to allow workers to display their tattoos, which are now required to be covered up. According to USA Today, an online petition asking the coffee shop giant to reassess its tattoo policy garnered 21,000 signatures.
Orszag said the increase in tattoos in recent decades may reflect an anti-establishment trend.
Having a tattoo is a permanent symbol of rebellion, signaling that you don’t buy into the norms established by an out-of-touch elite. Any labor-market or health risks involved are easily trumped by the satisfaction of showing that you’re willing to play by a different set of rules. If that’s the case, expect tattoos to become even more popular, as long as most Americans’ sense of opportunity and upward mobility remains limited.
I don’t have any tattoos. When I was in high school, I really wanted one, but my parents refused to let me permanently ink my body. I can’t thank them enough. I would have been stuck with a daisy chain around my ankle for the rest of my life. Yikes. At least it would have been easy to cover up.
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