Is it Possible to be Heavily Tattooed and Still Have a Highly Paid Job in the Professional Workplace?

A conversation with my Girlfriend has inspired me to write this. What began as an off-the-cuff remark soon turned into a full blown debate. Those that know me would say that this is an inevitability. The topic of discussion was tattoos and whether they hinder ones chances of getting a highly paid job. My argument was that a heavily tattooed person would struggle to find a position that paid highly; my girlfriend disagreed. Heavily tattooed, in this case, was defined as one or more full sleeves, highly visible work and/or ink on the neck and/or hands and knuckles. Highly paid was defined as £65,000 a year, which is currently, just over double the UK national average salary for males. The figures for these have come from a Payscale report dated the 3rd of December this year.

It would be foolish to say that tattoos, and being tattooed, are not becoming more common and more accepted within society, and the workplace. On the 20th of July 2010, the Guardian ran an article entitled “The Rise and Rise of the Tattoo“, which I will quote from here. Within this article it was stated that “a fifth of all British adults have now been inked”. The choice to get tattooed is even more popular across the pond in America where one tattooist says they are “about a decade ahead in terms of popularity”. There are many examples given of people who have tattoos and are well known, and highly paid, Angelina Jolie, Wayne Rooney, Robbie Williams and David Beckham are all mentioned, but I feel these represent a minority within their chosen fields. Lets take actresses for example, and though Angelina Jolie is tattooed and is also, currently, the highest paid actress (according to Forbes), she is not heavily tattooed. She is an actress with tattoos. Number two on Forbes’ list is Sarah Jessica Parker, she has no tattoos. Jennifer Aniston is third and only has a minor tattoo on her foot. The list goes on. None of Forbes’ highest paid actresses are heavily tattooed. Lets then look at football, which appears to be a more accepted sphere for tattoos. Once again we turn to Forbes and their top ten earners. David Beckham is noted as the highest earner and its fair to say that he is heavily tattooed. He has two full sleeves and more artwork on his chest and back. Cristiano Ronaldo is at two and he is not heavily tattooed, nor is Lionel Messi at three, or Wayne Rooney at four, though he does have a handful of tattoos. Indeed, outside of David Beckham nobody in the top ten is heavily tattooed.

What we can conclude from this is that heavily tattooed individuals in the top pay bracket of their chosen professions represent a minority. Of course getting a tattoo is an individual choice, and to become heavily tattooed is a major commitment. In the arena of sports and music, and perhaps even modelling, I would not anticipate that it would be too detrimental, but what about more mundane, everyday jobs? What about a heavily tattooed banker? or lawyer? or politician?

One case which immediately jumps out is that of Vladimir Franz. He came to worldwide attention earlier this year when he ran for Presidency in the Czech Republic. Vladimir finished fifth overall but the result was never the major media story. What caught everyones eye was that fact that Vladimir was not only heavily tattooed, he was almost completely covered. His arms, his hands, back, chest and even his face have artwork upon them. In fact he has achieved 90% body coverage. But once again Vladimir is the exception to the rule, despite extensive online searching I was not able to find any other example of  a politician with large amounts of tattoos.

A quick google search brought to my attention another article that featured on the Guardian, this one entitled                    “Stamping Out the Persistent Myths and Misconceptions About Tattoos“. It was here that I found a passage that gave links to “heavily tattooed scientists at NASA” and “heavily tattooed heart surgeons”. I thought that these may well be strong evidence to support my Girlfriends theory. However, after following these links I was disappointed to find that the heavily tattooed NASA scientist was in fact not tattooed at all, but instead had a number of facial piercings. The heavily tattooed heart surgeon had only one tattoo, a heart on his back.

To return to the former Guardian article, statistics were given stating that “14% of teachers are now tattooed” and “9% of servicemen and women”. It is highly unlikely though that these figures represent what we consider as heavily tattooed. If having a tattoo places you within the minority, being heavily tattooed places you within an even smaller minority. Perhaps being heavily tattooed and being in a highly paid job has no relationship, but judging how society views those with even a handful of tattoos, I feel it does. Though prejudices are changing and people are becoming more accepting, there are still many areas where having tattoos is not deemed as acceptable or appropriate. My own personal experience has told me that my tattoos will prevent me becoming a banker (not that I would want to), I would have trouble getting a recruitment consultancy job, and even working in a certain American coffee shop chain, the tattoos had to be covered up. A study in America with worrying findings has even suggested that being heavily tattooed, rather than getting you a good job, is more likely to mean time in prison. Jerome Koch, a sociology professor concluded that his study saw “a correlation between multiple tattoos and… socially unacceptable behaviour”. His study, “Body Art, Deviance and American College Students” found that those with four or more tattoos “are ten times more likely to have an arrest history [and] a four-fold increase in drug use”.

From researching and writing this article I have found little evidence to suggest that heavily tattooed people occupy the higher paid jobs. This is not to say however that they do not, or that it is not possible. The resources I have available to me may hamper my ability to find relevant information and statistics. Ideally I would like to have access to questionnaires that have been located in tattoo parlours, these questionnaires would ask how much each of the clients earn, and how many tattoos they have. It would only be after this was conducted at many parlours within the UK that we would be able to get a more accurate story. I dont doubt that highly paid, heavily tattooed individuals exist, and with the ever growing popularity, more will appear in the years to come. For the time being, however, our society is in a place whereby those with an abundance of tattoos either cannot find highly paid employment due to prejudices against their appearance, or due to the generation gap, those who are heavily tattooed are not experienced or old enough to be in the positions of high pay.

I fully expect my girlfriend to write a response to this.
All comments and feedback is appreciated. You are more than welcome to add your own stories to this article.
I look forward to hearing from you.


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4 thoughts on “Is it Possible to be Heavily Tattooed and Still Have a Highly Paid Job in the Professional Workplace?

  1. Great piece Paddy! It is a grey area, as I believe that it totally depends on what kind of industry it is that you are trying to enter. Fashion Designer Marc Jacobs makes approx 10 million a year and has tattoo’s (of which I would classify as heavily, but you may disagree, here’s a great link for you to check out on the subject: He is obviously, working within the creative industries and is a ‘celebrity’ now in his own right so obviously does not represent the masses.

    As you know, I am attempting to get into the corporate world of PR which, although it could be argued as also being a creative industry, it still ultimately a corporate environment. I have noticed within the several agencies that I have interviewed/ interned in, that no one seems to have any obvious tattoos on display, especially not the high earners. Furthermore, I was also told that I had to cover up my tattoo’s (and remove my nose ring) when meeting with various clients: Interesting to note that these clients were from fashion/ art/ design companies, therefore maybe classified as creative industries??

    Anyway. great debate piece Pad- well done!

  2. Do you think it is more of the case that the type of person who ins heavily tattooed is not going down the career path of the more highly paid jobs? I’m not saying it is I am merely asking.

    Traditionally they have been the first step for those who want to rebel and ‘fight the system’. I understand that this isn’t the case these days but it will explain a significant proportion of the results.

    They certainly have an impact upon how you are perceived for a large number of the more academic jobs but I don’t think it makes a difference in football. In fact I think it helps Skrtel looks more like a scary badass

  3. I’m currently active duty Air Force and the number of service members with heavy ink is way over 12%. I have a half sleeve and most of my supervisors and other airman on base have more ink than I currently have.

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