Tattoo artist Emma Hudson at Valley Ink, Fortitude Valley. Picture: Sarah Marshall/AAP
Tattoo artist Emma Hudson at Valley Ink, Fortitude Valley. Picture: Sarah Marshall/AAP

Tattooed employees ‘shortsighted’, reckless

People with visible tattoos are more likely to be "shortsighted" and reckless, according to a new study.

Canadian economists surveyed 1104 people in an attempt to determine the reason for the rapid rise in popularity of tattoos, despite potential negative career impacts.

"A mere two generations ago tattoos were largely reserved for criminals, sailors and circus freaks," Bradley Ruffle from McMaster University and Anne Wilson from Wilfrid Laurier University wrote.

Of the survey respondents, 255 had one or more tattoos that could easily be hidden, such as with a long sleeve shirt or long pants, and the remaining 68 had at least one visible tattoo such as on their face, neck or hand.

The study, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, put the respondents through a series of tests, followed by a detailed questionnaire about their finances, health and social life.

In one test, respondents were asked to choose between 10 pairs of options.

Option A, which remained the same across all 10 pairs, would see them paid $1 in 18 hours' time. Option B would require them to wait three weeks, with the amount increasing in each pair from $1.05 up to $2.50.

The later the subject chooses the larger, more distant payment over the lower, more immediate one, the more impatient or present-oriented they are.

Respondents were also given a modified version of the Cognitive Reflection Test, which consists of brainteaser type questions with seemingly obvious "intuitive" answers that are actually incorrect.

People who score lower on the CRT are thought to be more impulsive.

"We show that tattooed individuals, especially those with visible tattoos, are more shortsighted and impulsive than non-tattooed individuals," the study said.

"These findings are highly robust and supported by an incentivised time-preferences experiment, numerous self-report behaviours in the financial, health and social domains and a well known measure of impulsivity."

For example, the non-tattooed save more for retirement, make fewer late credit-card payments and better manage their debt and finances than the "hiddens" and "visibles", drink and smoke significantly less and are significantly less likely to post "personal or controversial statements online".

Interestingly, visibly tattooed people reported significantly stronger beliefs in God than the non-tattooed and hidden tattooed.

The researchers noted that "almost nothing mitigates these results" - not the reason for getting a tattoo, how long they mulled it over or the time since they last got one.


Actress Scarlett Johansson shows off her tattoo. Picture: Matrix
Actress Scarlett Johansson shows off her tattoo. Picture: Matrix


The "lone exception", however, was women with only hidden tattoos. "They are no more present-oriented or impulsive than non-tattooed women," the study said.

The authors concluded that "the tattooed are not fully aware of the reality of tattoos and it is precisely those individuals least aware that are most likely to get tattooed".

"The tattooed substantially over-estimate their prevalence in the population, and are less concerned about the potentially harmful effects of finding employment," the study said.

"Even if tattoos are normative among friends, farsighted individuals look beyond their social circle when contemplating a decision with possible career repercussions."

The authors stressed that they "do not condone discrimination on the basis of tattoos".

"Nonetheless, tattooing still seems to reveal two employment-relevant traits - short-sightedness and impulsivity," the study said.

Some employers "may have intuited the link between tattooing and the failure to consider long-term costs", which would lead to "high levels of discrimination in occupations in which patience and planning skills are valued and less or possibly no discrimination in occupations in which instinctive, quick decision-making takes precedence".

While no detailed study has been done, the authors noted anecdotal evidence supports this theory.

"For instance, internet forums offering advice to avoid or conceal tattoos often focus on more straight-laced, professional fields," the study said, noting previous research showed "subjects react significantly more negatively to a tattooed doctor than to a tattooed auto mechanic".

"In contrast, tattoos are highly normative among professional athletes, artists, actors and bartenders," the study said. "Indeed, tattoos may be an asset in fields where spontaneity, creativity or youthful 'edginess' are viewed as desirable traits."

More Australian women than men now have tattoos, according to a 2016 McCrindle survey of 1011 people, which found 19 per cent of people have at least one, while among women it's 24 per cent.

Among the tattooed, 72 per cent said their most recent was a picture or symbol while 19 per cent went for a phrase or a word.

"Many life-markers have disappeared from Australia's lives - from christenings, first Communions and marriages, to first pay cheques and moving out of home," Mark McCrindle said in a statement at the time.

"This has created a yearning to symbolise the chapters of life with new markers and tattoos are part of the new symbolism. In record numbers, Australians are marking milestones, commitments or life-chapters not just with bracelet charms or certificates, but tattoos. In a generation, tattoos have been transformed from a sign of rebellion and nonconformity, to symbols of personal meaning and life-change."

Twenty-nine per cent of Gen Ys aged 22 to 36 have a tattoo, the largest portion of any age group, and more than half of people with tattoos have more than one.

Among people with tattoos, 27 per cent said they had regrets, 15 per cent had looked into tattoo removal and 17 per cent said they would discourage or strongly discourage their children from getting one.

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