At some point or another, you've probably had someone – be that a career advisor, a recruitment consultant, or your mom – tell you that a visible tattoo will hurt your job prospects. And while that may have been the case just a few years ago, new research published in the journal Human Relations shows that taboos around body ink are on the decline. Not only are tattoos no longer discriminated against from an employment and earnings standpoint, the may even help you get hired. (If you are in the US, at least.)
An international team of researchers from the University of Miami and the University of Western Australia surveyed over 2,000 people from across the 50 states on their tattoos and careers. Roughly half lived and worked in urban areas with 1 million or more people.
Flying in the face of traditional career guidance advice, the researchers found the wages and annual earnings of tattooed and non-tattooed employees were statistically indistinguishable – which is especially good news for millennials who are twice as likely to sport tattoos as their elders (40 percent and 20 percent respectively).
Even more interesting was the finding that tattoos weren't just not actively harming a person's career prospects, they could actually increase a candidate's chances of landing the job. This supports a 2016 study, which found that a tattoo – provided it aligned with a company's branding – could be seen as a positive asset in a job interview.
It is worth noting that the study was strictly US based, so the results may not hold true elsewhere. And, of course, there will be some employers for whom the above results do not apply. As lead author Michael French pointed out, some industries (and some businesses) are less open-minded when it comes to body art than others, though this may be to their detriment.
"Given the increasing prevalence of tattoos in society – around 40 percent for young adults – hiring managers and supervisors who discriminate against tattooed workers will likely find themselves at a competitive disadvantage for the most qualified employees," said French, who is a professor of health economics at the Department of Health Sector Management and Policy at the Miami Business School. This may well mean they end up settling for a less qualified job candidate.
So, what is causing this trend?
"Historically, tattoos have been associated with lower classes, crime, drug abuse, and mental illness, however in the past few decades tattooing has broken away from those stereotypes as a form of self-expression," Andrew Timming, an associate professor of human resource management at the University of Western Australia's Business School, said in a statement.
"Previous research has found that employers held largely negative views toward body art, but this new study suggests that times are changing quickly, along with public attitudes."