Having a tattoo has no impact on an individual’s employment or earnings, according to a new study from the School’s health sector management and policy and economics departments. After accounting for personal traits (i.e., education, behavioral choices, human capital, lifestyle factors, etc.) the researchers found no significant difference in the way people with tattoos are treated in the workplace than those without tattoos.
The study, in the February issue of the Southern Economic Journal, is the first to rigorously investigate whether having a tattoo is significantly associated with employment or earnings. The research paper won the 2016 Georgescu-Roegen Prize, which is presented each year by the Southern Economic Association® to the author(s) of the best academic article published in that journal.
The researchers explain that differences in employment and earnings can occur for a number of reasons, including productivity differences, employee signaling (i.e., information potential employees may reveal about their likes and dislikes), and in some cases, discrimination by either the employer or customers on the basis of having a tattoo. But, when the researchers controlled for a large set of factors that have been shown to affect employment and earnings, the negative impact of having a tattoo becomes small and non-significant.
This result may be partially explained by the fact that some industries, such as music and entertainment, professional sports, fashion, bars and nightclubs, styling, etc., actually welcome employees with tattoos.
“Qualitative research shows that tattoos are definitely becoming less taboo and somewhat accepted even in traditional workplaces, especially among younger employees,” said Michael T. French, professor of health sector management and policy at the School, who conducted the study with Philip K. Robins, professor of economics. “If someone’s main concern about getting tattooed is whether body art will make them less employable or limit their earnings, this research suggests it should not be a major deterrent.”
The authors analyzed two large and nationally representative datasets from the United States and Australia–National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and the Australian Longitudinal Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR)—each with specific questions about tattoos, employment, and earnings. The total sample sizes were 9,691 in Add Health and 3,518 in ASHR. Using these data, they were able to estimate whether having one or more tattoos is significantly related to employment and earnings after controlling for demographics, human capital accumulation, lifestyle factors, and other variables that predict labor market outcomes and could relate to tattoo status.
“We believe it would be interesting in our future research to explore whether prominent tattoos (on the face or neck, for example), multiple tattoos, provocative images, or large tattoos, are significantly related to employment and/or earnings,” said Robins.