Do Tattoos Affect Your Path in Life?


My son Pat and I spent this past Friday walking the streets of Philadelphia, from the Jefferson Station stop of SEPTA to Spruce Street Park to South Street to Govindas for lunch to Rittenhouse Square and finally to 30th Street Station. In total, about 4.5 miles. The weather was perfect, and the company even better.

It was while we were walking along South Street that a thought came to me about tattoos. If you’ve never been to South Street, it is an eclectic collection of fast food restaurants, bars, clothing stores, tattoo shops, smoke shops, and other unique, independent shops. (One of the most unusual is Wooden Shoe Books, an all-volunteer shop that sells anarchist and radical literature).

South Street is a fun place to walk around, and quite different from going to a mall. I noticed that many of the people working in the stores, as well as shopping in the stores, had some serious tattoos. The tattoos did not seem out of place in such an environment, but then I started thinking if having such tattoos locks many of these individuals into a certain career and life path.

(Please note that my comments here are not meant to criticize people who have tattoos, they are more just observational and curious. My thoughts are also coming from the the world I am most familiar with – living in the suburbs and teaching business at a private university).

One of my first thoughts was wondering if any of the Big 4 public accounting firms, Wall Street investment firms, or major law firms would ever hire someone who had an arm or neck covered with tattoos. I also thought that perhaps many of the people I came across on South Street would have no desire to work at such places.

But what if they did – would a decision a person made at a young age, such as getting a tattoo, prevent them from ever pursuing such a career? Do people who get a tattoo ever think about such an issue? Does a tattoo put your life and career on a certain path?

Or maybe I’m naive, and perhaps there are many people working at professional firms that do have a significant amount of tattoos, and they just cover them up when they are at work.

So far this post is quite biased in that it assumes that having tattoos could possibly be detrimental in certain professions. But could it be that having tattoos gives some people an edge in certain jobs or careers.

For example, if I were to apply for a job at certain South Street stores, would my lack of tattoos put me at a disadvantage?

My biggest curiosity is wondering what happens in 20 years to all these young, heavily tattooed people I saw working on South Street.

Will they regret having the tattoos; will having the tattoos be a problem when looking for a job; is there a difference in the average income of 40 year olds with and without tattoos?

A Harris poll in 2012 indicated that one in five adults in the U.S. have at least one tattoo, but among those 18-29 years old the figure was closer to 40%. This article also notes that in some places (the West Coast) and certain industries (restaurant), tattoos may be more acceptable, but I did not see any mention of tattoos being advantageous. In a 2013 national survey of hiring managers, 60 percent said a visible tattoo would limit a job applicant’s odds of getting hired.

But many workplaces seem to be more accepting today of tattoos. Back in 2013, Children’s Hospital in St. Louis updated its dress code, allowing tattoos to go uncovered and giving managers discretion in terms of addressing designs that could be considered offensive or unprofessional. The Hospital noted that tattoos and piercing represent an important mode of self-expression, and they did not want to stifle that. had an interesting article with some statistics on tattoos in the workplace (and here I thought I was the first one to think about this issue!)

But perhaps it is interesting to note that in last week’s Philadelphia Inquirer there was a story about how tattoo removal is a growth industry. According to a 2015 Harris survey, nearly 1 in 4 Americans rues their tattoos. Last year, that regret fueled an $80 million industry in removals, up from $15 million in 2005.Could it be that people are realizing the impact having a tattoo may have had on their journey through life?

I don’t have any answers to the questions posed above, but it is something I’ve grown curious about.

I wonder if anyone reading this blog has any thoughts on the issue?


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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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