Tattoos, employment, and labor market earnings: Is there a link in the ink?

Michael T. French, Johanna Catherine Maclean, Philip K. Robins, Bisma Sayed, Leah Shiferaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The popularity of tattooing has increased substantially in recent years, particularly among adolescents and young adults. Moreover, tattooed images are permanent unless the individual opts for expensive, time consuming, and painful removal procedures. Given the increasing popularity of tattooing, and the permanent nature of this action, it is of interest to know whether tattooed workers are more or less likely to be employed and, conditional on employment, if they receive wages that are different from the wages of their non-tattooed peers. To investigate these questions, we analyze two large data sets - from the United States and Australia - with measures of tattoo status, employment, earnings, and other pertinent variables. Regardless of country, gender, specific measures, or estimation technique, the results consistently show that having a tattoo is negatively and significantly related to employment and earnings in bivariate analyses, but the estimates become smaller and nonsignificant after controlling for human capital, occupation, behavioral choices, lifestyle factors, and other individual characteristics related to labor market outcomes. Various robustness checks confirm the stability of the core findings. These results suggest that, once differences in personal characteristics are taken into account, tattooed and non-tattooed workers are treated similarly in the labor market. We offer suggestions for improving future surveys to enable a better understanding of the relationships between tattooed workers and their labor market outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1212-1246
Number of pages35
JournalSouthern Economic Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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