Are Tattoos the Worst Investment Ever?

by Darwin on July 23, 2012

Maybe it’s because I’ve hit that age – people do dumb things following their 21st birthdays. Or maybe it’s just college. At any rate, I’ve started to notice more ink.

Tons and tons of ink.

Recent outrage from Bill O’Reilly’s assertion that people could, you know, actually regret getting a tattoo reminded me of just how many I see. It seems like everyone has a tattoo, and Bill O’Reilly quoted some study (one which I’ve yet to find) that 25% of people regret ever getting on in the first place. The FDA suspects that as many as 20% of tattooed people regret having one.

Tattoo Regret and Finding a Job

I’m sure there are a lot of people who love their tattoos. A good friend of mine probably wouldn’t wake up so happy each day without Sonic the Hedgehog on his bicep. Others have less noticeable tattoos that mean something special and so the tattoo sticks around.

I get that. What I don’t understand is paying for a lower income.

I looked for studies to show the relationship between tattoos and income. Most were just about people’s perceptions regarding the difficulty of getting a job with a tattoo exposed. Anywhere from 80-90% of people (depending on who you believe) say that having an exposed tattoo does negatively affect someone’s chance of landing a job.

That’s about the best I would expect of a study. Something tells me that any study that looks at the relationship between tattoos and income would find that lower-income people have fewer barriers to getting a tattoo, and thus lower-income people have disproportionately more tattoos than higher income people. Basically, no one is going to get fired as a bouncer for having a tattoo, so low-paid bouncers are more likely to have tattoos than the CEO running a chain of bars.

Any study that looks at the relationship won’t find the true answer as to how a tattoo does or does not affect the possibility of landing a job. And I would also think that the softer economy makes a tattoo a much bigger deal in 2012 than in 2007, societal changes aside.

Bad Long Range Planning, or Just Art?

I should probably disclose that I don’t have a tattoo. Nor would I ever want to get one. So when I see new tattoos, I often wonder what goes through some people’s minds when they hand over good money for sloppy art.

Among the best arguments I’ve ever heard for a tattoo was from a girl in one of my classes. “Tattoos are the cheapest original art you can buy,” she said. That makes perfect sense – and it appeals to my frugal senses! But of course any art is less expensive when your body is the canvas, and obviously tattoos aren’t known for having resale value.

On the other end I think tattoos represent poor long-run decision-making. I mean, is that tattoo really going to look great on a 50 year old body? Or will employers really care that about your memorial to a loved one on your neck or forearm? At some point, some time, someone else will be in a position to judge you for having or not having a tattoo.

Editor’s Note from Darwin:  I also think getting a tattoo at a young age is often a really dumb move.  First off, when you’re young, you do stupid things.  So, do stupid things that aren’t permanent.  A tattoo is (largely, and MEANT TO BE) permanent.  I’ve interviewed several professionals and while I realize it’s now “in” to have paint, I do think twice about the maturity level and professionalism if someone has a giant tattoo on their neck and they’re seeking white collar work where you’re going to be the face of the company to external customers and business partners.  You found Jesus?  Great, keep it to yourself.  You like cats?  That’s just wonderful.  You’re in love?  Getting married is a perfectly rational way of celebrating your love.  By the way, I have read (also didn’t find the study) that tattoo removal businesses are exploding.  Evidently, buyer’s remorse is setting in for many professionals.  If you’re older and don’t think it would impact your career or if you’re in a career where having a tattoo is pretty normal, then go for it.  If you ever want to work in a conservative role where tattoos are not the norm (or would like to retain some flexibility to do so in the future), please, use your head.  Either get it in a spot nobody notices during routine interactions or don’t get one at all.  You won’t regret NOT getting one.

So are tattoos the worst investment ever, or just inexpensive art for fun-loving free spirits?

Are tattoos more acceptable now today than in the past?

Do you agree with the other 80-90% of people who say that having a tattoo makes it harder to find a job?

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Financial Uproar July 23, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Oh man, I agree with every single word of this. Yes x 1000000.


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:25 am

me too, at least from a traditional white collar job standpoint


Echo July 24, 2012 at 9:06 am

If you’re getting a neck tattoo, it might as well read, “not company material”. I see plenty of tattoos and strange piercings on kids at the University where I work and wonder what exactly they aspire to be when they get into the real world. It’s not like this is a trade school…it’s a liberal arts University.

Although when it comes to tattoos vs. income I think hundreds of professional athletes making millions will pull the average up.


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:27 am

I have some friends in marketing, professional photography, and “trendy” professions where they dress freaky and many people have piercings and tattoos. They get away with it due to the clientele and whatnot. On the “average”, that’s a good reason to use median, not mean.


Lance@MoneyLife&More July 24, 2012 at 9:55 am

Well tattoos aren’t an investment no matter how you look at it. They are an expenditure. I would never get a tattoo and don’t see how one could ever pay off unless you are in a gang or are a tattoo artist. Maybe I don’t know what I am talking about because I don’t hang out in the right circle but I just don’t get tattoos.


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:33 am

True; I guess some people might think it’s an investment if it’s going to pay off in some fashion (usually celebs), but it rarely would be.


krantcents July 24, 2012 at 10:05 am

I agree and felt this way for a long time. As an old(er) person, I may be a little biased. My students in a low socioeconomic school want and get tatoos routinely in high school. I advise them to at least wait until you are 25 years old to see if you still want them. At that age, you may have a better perspective. They never do though. Tatoos are on the rise, no matter what I say or do!


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:33 am

Good advice; can always wait! But by then, they’re already out of that cool stage!


Tomare Utsu Zo July 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

I got my first tattoo when I was 23. 13 Months later I had six and a half tat’s. I’ve gotten one more in the 9 years since then, and I love everyone of them. Two of my tat’s will peek out of a sufficiently short sleeve shirt. I make over 150k a year, and have never found any difficulty in landing a job. (Without having gone to college.)

So are tattoos the worst investment ever, or just inexpensive art for fun-loving free spirits?
It is money that will NEVER earn you a dime without EXTENSIVE (read freakish) work. But, money is only a tool used as a medium for transfer of current goods and services for future goods and services. You should only seek dollars that enrich your life. Not spending money that will do you no other good is wasting effort made. (If you earned it but didn’t benefit from it, you invested your time and effort unwisely.) In-other-words, invest in yourself. :p

Are tattoos more acceptable now today than in the past?
They are probably more acceptable now, but they still have a social cost. All things have a social cost. Know what you are paying for, buy only what you can afford.

Do you agree with the other 80-90% of people who say that having a tattoo makes it harder to find a job?
No. Having an unprofessional tat makes it harder to find a job. That means choose your tat theme and location to fit your career choices.


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:35 am

I think it depends much on the industry/company. Even having a “good” tattoo that’s highly visible could certainly influence an interviewer. But if they’re hidden or others in the firm have them, it’s probably a non-issue. Who knows, if the owner or senior leaders ARE into them, it may actually give one a leg up? But it’s unpredictable.


Bob February 8, 2013 at 8:30 pm

I think you are delusional or just too young and immature to understand reality. If you are indeed making over $150k per year, you are extremely lucky – the majority of white collared professionals (not all) will quickly overlook you if you are overly decorated. I am in a profession where $150k per year is the norm and I will assure you that no one has visible tattoos. I am a hiring manager and although no one has come to an interview with any exposed ink, I will assure you that you won’t even get a rejection letter. That’s a fact.

Twenty somethings need to understand that they need to impress the generation before them. We are currently in charge – sorry!


Tomare Utsu Zo February 10, 2013 at 2:20 pm

*Laughs mildly* I am 33. The premise that is sticking your craw is, I am not a white collar worker. I actually provide something of value to my employers. I have been tapped multiple times for filing management roles (am in one right now) and get top rate pay raises, and I NEVER get turned down for any jobs I apply for.

But, hey, you stay in charge you in charge person you.


Darwin February 10, 2013 at 11:19 pm

The fact that so many people feel this way is evidence as to why people that are serious about a white collar career shouldn’t have visible tattoos. There are exceptions; my one friend is a highly paid advertising exec and he has a mohawk and earings. But in that field, it’s “cool and trendy” to look kinda freaky and if you look like a tightass, clients may not think you’re that “edgy” or creative. Wall Street or selling to other corporate clients in another field? not sure the visible tattoo thing would ever work.


Andrea @SoOverThis July 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I have two tattoos, but if someone is seeing them, especially in a professional setting, something is very wrong. Very few people even know I have them.

Even though I have ink, I constantly warn people against getting tattoos that are visible with regular clothes on. I don’t have a problem with it personally, but the fact is, a lot of people (and employers) do. I don’t ever want to be in a position where my appearance takes attention away from my abilities.


Darwin July 25, 2012 at 7:23 am

I agree, if they’re not obvious, it totally doesn’t matter professionally.


Wayne @ Young Family Finance July 26, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Sometimes when I look at tattoos I think about how my mom says that her tastes changed so much from when she got married 31 years ago. She no longer likes the things she picked from her wedding registry when she was 21. She’s totally frugal and will never throw them away until they break beyond fixing, but she has to deal with the fact that she no longer likes them. Then I think about a tattoo. At least my mom could feasibly toss the stuff that she doesn’t like from when she was 21, but if you have a tattoo you can’t throw it away. It’s there. For good. Unless you take it off, but then you have a scar and spend an obscene amount of money in the process. I’m with you on the idea of tattoos being a bad idea!


101 Centavos August 4, 2012 at 9:53 am

About the strongest deterrence against a tattoo was a bar conversation with a 40-something guy, back when I was in my mid twenties (and thinking about one). He had badly faded tats on both forearms and biceps. As he looked at the running colors, he exclaimed with emotion that he wished all the time he’d never gotten the damn things. But he was young and stupid at the time, etc etc…

Is the title of this post is a bit of a straw man? I’ve never heard or read of anyone calling a tattoo an investment. A buy or a purchase perhaps, but not an investment.


Darwin August 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm

It’s on your body permanently. Isn’t that kind of an investment? I would consider an expense something that’s…expendable. temporary. This is with you for life.


101 Centavos August 9, 2012 at 4:45 am

Sure it’s permament… But not an investment in that it doesn’t generate a return.

Hey, what kind of PF site is this anyway? 🙂


Ethan's Money September 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm

I agree totally with everything in this article! (and it made me laugh)

I’ve noticed a big increase in the amount of ink in the United Kingdom. And I saw the same thing on holiday recently in mainland Europe, so I think that this is a trend throughout the Western World.

It’s also become less of a class-based thing. Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a professional or ‘white collar’ worker with tattoos, but now it is reasonably common.

I’m off to investigate the economics of setting up a tattoo removal business. There’s a massive business opportunity about 5 to 10 years from now.


hmmm November 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I actually disagree with a lot of this article.
Whilst I do understand the reality that a lot of industry professionals may be discouraged in hiring someone with tattoos, it is becoming increasingly popular and as such, more accepted within a wider range of professions.
It’s all about personal opinion though and so I don’t understand than how somebody else can be judged for making the very personal decision to get tattooed. Same as I don’t understand judgement based on haircut, degree of facial hair etc.
I think the professional world just needs to realise that tattoos do not affect ability and intellect, and that such views are very close minded and whether the individual regrets the tattoo in the future is irrelevant.


brianb February 18, 2013 at 11:23 am

It’s fine to disagree but having a different opinion doesn’t erase reality from the equation. Never forget that perception is reality. Not everyone will discriminate against someone for having visible ink but some people will. Both in hiring situations, and business negotiations doing anything that detracts from the other persons perception of your intelligence, skill, reliability, judgement is going to hurt you some percentage of the time. It’s not only a consideration in the work place, it’s a factor in romance, marriage, and other interpersonal relationships.

Personally I believe every has a right to choose what they do with their skin, but that does not change the fact that a tattoo can change how people perceive you. I would venture a guess that the percentage of women with visible ink such as a neck tattoo or full sleeve who are married to doctors and lawyers is significantly smaller than the number of such women married to blue collar workers. Getting large, visible tattoo’s is certainly within your right but no matter how you want things to be in an ideal world free from discrimination and perception, in the real world people will judge you for these decisions and a large percentage will think less of you.

If you think that perceptions don’t matter try and explain the very well documented fact that tall men have higher earning potential than short men. This is not to say that all tall men are wealthy and all short men are poor, just that being tall has an advantage in earnings potential that can only realistically be attributed to other peoples perception of them.


Man from Modesto January 2, 2013 at 3:49 pm

There remains a very influential sector of society which perceive tattoos to belong to the realm of people with fewer morals and values. Fathers don’t like them on daughters’ dates. Employers don’t like them on cash handlers. I agree that tattoos reflect poor long-term decision making. Waiting to cross the street once in Philadelphia, near 47th and Baltimore, I saw a spotless Mercedes pull to the line and stop. In the back sat an old woman, in a sleeveless dress and a Sunday go to meetin’ hat. She looked very rich, as did the car. Then I noticed she was covered in tattoos. I was so shocked, I stepped off the curb to see better. She noticed and was visibly offended. It looked completely out of place.


Man from Modesto January 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I also want to say that I have hired many people over the decades. I have never had any problems with the tattooed personnel. However, all the stellar hires I have ever made were without tattoos.


Darwin January 4, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Are you in a white collar profession with client-facing personnel? If they’re doing more low key work or don’t face clients, doesn’t matter nearly as much.


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