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Michael T. French of the University of Miami and colleagues surveyed more than 2, people in the United States and found that those with tattoos were no less likely to be employed than their uninked counterparts, and that average earnings were the same for both groups. In fact, tattooed men were slightly more likely to have jobs than other men.
French: We went in expecting to find a negative relationship between tattoos and success in the labor market. But in this analysis, after we controlled for factors that could affect job prospects—such as alcohol use and whether people had been in jail—we found no ificant correlation between body art and employment or earnings. We uncovered a correlation but not causation. But nothing much had been done on tattoos. We thought we might get different by asking about tattoos you could see or that were especially large or considered offensive.
Our initial hypothesis was also informed by studies suggesting that tattoos are taboo in the workplace. Yes, some of those studies are more than a decade old. Since then, body art has gained much more acceptance as a form of personal expression, just like your clothing, jewelry, or hairstyle. Even the U. Marines now allow recruits to have visible tattoos anywhere but the face, because when tattoos were banned, the organization found it was losing out on good candidates.
Are tattoos OK for tradespeople but not professionals? A study did show that consumers perceived visible tattoos to be inappropriate in white-collar professions but not in blue-collar ones. In some types of jobs body art might be seen as less of a negative or even a positive. Women ed for two-thirds of our sample, but we found no employment or wage penalty for those with body art. Not according to our data.
The respondents who told us they had offensive tattoos were just as likely to be employed as those without any tattoos. But we were relying on self-reporting, so our sample size on that measure was small. And offensiveness is subjective. Is a Confederate flag a symbol of Southern heritage or racial oppression? Is cultural context important? Would you get different in other countries? In places like Eastern Europe and South America, we might even see that tattoos are more valued.
This would be a way to extend our research. I have a few. On one calf I have a campfire and on the other my favorite motorcycling road. On my bicep I have a waterfall scene, and on the inside of my left forearm, I have a colorful arrow, which I get lots of compliments on.
I got my first one 10 years ago. What if all the employed people with tattoos only got them once they were established in their careers—as you did? We note in the study that we have no information on the timing of tattoos. We plan to use eye-movement tracking technology to see how people respond to photos of visible and offensive tattoos. But honestly, I feel that if our findings can be replicated with different samples, researchers should spend less time studying tattoos as they relate to employment and earnings.
We should study other potentially stigmatized groups and try to correct real, not just perceived, biases. You have 1 free article s left this month. You are reading your last free article for this month. Subscribe for unlimited access. Job search. Body art no longer has any stigma in the labor market, new research suggests. A version of this article appeared in the November—December issue pp. on Job search or related topics Hiring and Generational issues. Alison Beard is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review. Partner Center.Seeking tattooed guy
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