The Corner

The Apple Watch and the Lingering Tattoo Taboo

There is something amusing, and poignant, about the news that the Apple Watch was apparently not designed for people with tattoos. The Verge reports that because the device’s heart-rate monitor works by shining a light through skin, tattoos can interfere with its proper functioning. Can it really be that the Apple engineers who devised the Apple Watch never considered that many of their customers have sleeve tattoos, and that these tattoos might interfere with the functioning of the heart-rate monitor? I don’t doubt that Apple employs tattooed workers. Given the pervasiveness of tattoos in modern America, they’d have a very hard time not employing tattooed workers. A Fox News survey conducted in 2014 found that (a) 20 percent of voters have a tattoo, up from 13 percent in 2007; (b) 34 percent of those under 30 have at least one, and that 19 percent have three or more; (c) and 47 percent of women have at least one while the same is true of only 25 percent of men. Others, I should note, estimate that the share of young adults with tattoos is even higher. So no, I doubt that Apple’s U.S. workforce is tattoo-free. Yet I do wonder if tattooed employees are underrepresented in the ranks of Apple engineers.

In my limited experience, I’ve found that tattoos are less common among affluent, upwardly-mobile people than they are in the general population, and it saddens me to think that many of the young people who get tattoos will eventually regret having done so. One would think that the spread of tattoos would mean that the stigma associated with them would have vanished, but in fact it stubbornly persists. Far more people report that tattoos make one less attractive (60 percent) than more attractive (8 percent) in the Fox News poll, and though 73 percent say that they’d hire someone with a visible tattoo, 16 percent say that they would not. And this, of course, is a binary question. If all else were equal, would an employer prefer to hire a worker with a visible tattoo or a worker without one? Andrew Timming of the University of St Andrews in Scotland finds that employers do indeed discount job applicants with visible tattoos to at least some degree. All of this is to say that if you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, keep in mind that your future self might advise you against it. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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