Forget what your mother told you—that infinity tattoo you got with your ex-BFF isn't a huge job liability after all. According to a study presented at the recent British Sociological Association conference, that tattoo might even increase your chances of getting hired.
Most academic research on tattoos in the workplace has focused on the negative aspects of having a tattoo, while studies showing positive workplace benefits of tattoos are few and far between. While the research has lagged behind, more and more Americans are getting inked.
In 2010, the Pew Research Center reported that 38 percent of 18 to 29 year old Americans have a tattoo. These aren't just tasteful sideboob florals—the report also noted that 30 percent of those tattoos are visible. In contrast to millennial trends, only 15 percent of 46 to 64-year-olds have tattoos while those at 65 years and above, report a measly six percent tattoo-rate.
The increasing popularity of tattoos is undeniable. In 1999, only 21 percent of US households reported at least one member with a tattoo. Contrast that to 2014's 40 percent of households with tattooed members.
A study conducted by the University of St Andrews in the United Kingdom sought to determine workplace viability of tattoos in light of increasing tattoo popularity. Andrew Timming, a professor at St Andrews who conducted the study, explains to Broadly over email that "body art has traditionally been thought of as a stigma, or a cultural signal that has negative connotations associated with delinquency and ill health." However, he notes that "these views are rapidly changing and have been diluted in recent years" thanks to the sheer prevalence of tattoos and increase in positive media representation.
In the first part of the study, 192 people in the United States with managerial experience were asked to rate photographs of tattooed and non-tattooed job applicants for two hypothetical job situations; one was a fine dining restaurant, the other a popular nightclub.
As predicted by Timmings, survey respondents rated potential employees with tattoos lower in context of the fine dining restaurant and higher for the nightclub. The study suggests that having a tattoo can be considered a liability or an asset by hiring managers depending on the atmosphere and brand identity of the business.
The second part of the study was conducted in the United Kingdom. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with managers, tattooed employees, and potential customers in real businesses. Through a qualitative analysis, the researchers found that tattoos can be strategically used to convey the brand image of the company, particularly those companies looking to reach a younger, "edgier" demographic.
Unfortunately, women tend to suffer from more negative stereotypes associated with body art compared to men
Gender also came into play in the study. Previous studies have shown that body art is a highly gendered phenomenon, as tattooed women are more often viewed negatively than tattooed men. This study found that in the fine dining restaurant scenario, men's tattooed faces were rated more positively than women's tattooed faces. "Unfortunately, women tend to suffer from more negative stereotypes associated with body art compared to men," says Timming. "The proverbial 'tramp stamp' is an example. There is no equivalent terminology for men."
If you want to work in a field that likely appreciates or even covets your tattoos, it's important to note before getting that block letter quote that not all tattoos are treated equally.
Many respondents in the studies said images "that support fascists" or are "misogynistic," would be "unacceptable."
"The genre of the tattoo is key," says Timming. "Every tattoo is a unique signifier and some signs are more or less palatable than others."' Study participants aptly pointed out that non-palatable tattoos such as Nazi swastikas and dicks would probably not help anyone's chances in obtaining employment.