My first day at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, my editor walked me around to meet the rest of the writers on staff. It was all fairly uneventful with the handshakes, hellos and making coffee dates with other editors. But there was one thing my editor said that made this first day different: I was told to keep my sleeves rolled up and my arms exposed.
My tattoos — at the time I had a half-sleeve of graffiti art on my right arm and a patchwork of ink on my left — were not only unique or perhaps fun to look at, they were a part of the reason I got hired in the first place.
Like it or not, tattoos and body modifications are more common than previous decades among the American workforce. And whereas tattoos previously might’ve only been acceptable to flaunt while working as a cashier at Virgin Records in the 1990s, new research shows that may no longer be the case.
A new analysis conducted by three researchers from the University of Miami and the University of Western Australia Business School found that, in aggregate, there was no statistical difference in earnings or employment level among the 2,000 U.S. participants.
According to Andrew R. Timming, one of the researchers, that might have to do with the increase in visibility of tattoos in America.
A 2015 Harris Poll found that almost a third of all Americans have at least one tattoo — a nine percent increase from the year before. Almost half of all millennials have at least one tattoo.
All of this means not only visible tattoos in more workplaces, but also, as the younger tattooed generation moves up the ranks into hiring positions, they are less likely to see tattoos as a barrier to entry for jobs.
“You consider [decades] ago, women weren’t allowed to wear pants in the workplace. Now, it’s just part of the background,” Timming tells NationSwell. “The key takeaway here is that attitudes toward body art are changing so quickly, and it’s because of the increased prevalence in society.”
Even public critics of tattoos in the workplace, such as Andrew Hill from the Financial Times, are now telling younger job applicants to hold off on laser removal, despite expectations that the tattoo removal business will grow into a $2.8 billion market.
Past wisdom from hiring recruiters and columnists would be for young professionals to forego ink for the big paychecks. And there is still a perceived bias against those with tattoos, according to a Salary.com survey last year, which found that out of 2,700 people they surveyed, three-quarters of those who responded believed that having visible tattoos hurt an applicant’s ability to get hired.
Timming’s own research over the past decade backs this up. Going into the new survey, he and the other researchers expected those with more tattoos to be at a disadvantage when compared to the ink-free.
“[We thought] we would find significant wage discrimination or employment discrimination, based on our expectations from previous research, but apparently hypothetical relations are one thing,” says Timming. “Reality is very different.”