Three in Ten Americans Have Tattoos, and Most Don’t Stop at Just One

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The FINANCIAL — Tattoos can take any number of forms, from animals to quotes to cryptic symbols, and appear in all sorts of spots on our bodies – some visible in everyday life, others not so much. But one thing’s for sure – more and more Americans are getting them. About three in ten Americans (29%) have at least one tattoo, up from roughly two in ten (21%) just four years ago. What’s more, few inked Americans stop at one; among those with any tattoos, seven in ten (69%) have two or more.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,225 U.S. adults surveyed online from October 14-19, 2015.

Tattoos are especially prevalent among younger Americans, with nearly half of Millennials (47%) and over a third of Gen Xers (36%) saying they have at least one, compared to 13% of Baby Boomers and one in ten Matures (10%). Millennials and Gen Xers (37% and 24%) are also exponentially more likely than their elders (6% Baby Boomers, 2% Matures) to have multiple tattoos.

Some other interesting comparisons:

Rural (35%) and Urban (33%) Americans are both more likely to have a tattoo than Suburbanites (25%).

Those with kids in the household are much more likely than those without to be sporting at least one tattoo (43% vs. 21%).

Political persuasion doesn’t seem to factor into the decision to get a tattoo, with little difference between Republicans, Democrats and Independents (27%, 29% and 28%).

Regrets, I’ve had a few

With tattoos on the rise, regrets have risen as well; though a strong majority still has no regrets, nearly one fourth (23%) of those with tattoos say they ever regret getting one – up from 14% in 2012.

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Top-ranked regrets (collected in an open-ended manner) include:

Too young when they got the tattoo,

Personality changes/Doesn’t fit my present lifestyle,

Got someone’s name that I’m no longer with,

Poorly done/Doesn’t look professional, and

Isn’t meaningful.

Hooked on a feeling

A third (33%) of inked adults indicate having a tattoo has made them feel sexy (up marginally from 30% in 2012). Roughly a third also say that it makes them feel attractive (32%), though it’s worth noting that this percentage has grown considerably from 21% in 2012. Just over a quarter (27%) say it makes them feel more rebellious and two in ten (20%) feel more spiritual as a result of their tattoos. Fewer say it makes them feel more intelligent (13%), respected (13%), employable (10%) and healthy (9%). 

Perhaps the more important learning, though, is that most say that having a tattoo hasn’t made them feel any different on any of these measures.

Outside impressions

Opinions differ more broadly among those without tattoos:

Nearly half (45%) feel those with tattoos are more rebellious than those without – though it’s worth noting that this percentage continues to decline (54% held this belief in 2008; 50% in 2012), likely a byproduct of tattoos’ continued trend toward the mainstream.

On the other end of the scale, nearly half feel those with tattoos are less attractive (47%) than those without, 44% feel they’re less sexy and a third (34%) believe them to be less respectable.

Meanwhile, between a quarter and three in ten think those with tattoos are less intelligent (29%), healthy (28%) and spiritual (25%).

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Across professions, visible tattoos no big deal

Further driving home the message of tattoos going mainstream, majorities of Americans would be comfortable seeing a person with visible tattoos serve in roles across a diverse range of industries and professions. Comfort ranges from highs of 86% for athletes, 81% for IT technicians and 78% for chefs, to lower majorities of 59% each for primary school teachers and judges, and even 58% for presidential candidates.

More specifically, many Americans – particularly Millennials – would be “extremely comfortable” with someone with visible tattoos in these professions – including police officers (39%, including 54% of Millennials), real estate brokers (37%/52%), bankers (36%/50%), doctors (35%/51%), judges (34%/49%) and presidential candidates (32%/46%).

That’s all well and good, but parents are likely to have a whole different set of standards when it comes to who interacts with their kids, right? Wrong. In fact, a separate poll of parents with kids under 18 in the household found that strong majorities are comfortable (roughly four in ten of them “extremely” so) with people sporting visible tattoos serving in a number of positions that involve interacting with the kiddos:

Coach (81% comfortable, 39% extremely comfortable),

High school teacher (75%, 39%),

Camp counselor (73%, 36%),

Sitter/Caregiver (73%, 37%),

Primary school teacher (71%, 37%), and

Pediatrician (71%, 40%).


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