Economists Are (Mostly) Wrong About Why I Tattoo

by Carmen Rita Wong
Originally Published: 

I’ve been nudged (slightly, as it’s not necessarily a secret) to do this by an economist. Peter Orszag, the former head of the Congressional Budget Office, posted a piece recently on how the surge in tattooing for Americans, particularly young ones (at this pace most adults in this country under the age of 30 will soon have ink), has been explained by lagging wages and the job market. He sings the jingle for those who say that the tattooed are taking themselves out of the workforce and sacrificing a chance at upward mobility by marking their skin.

So what about those of us inked as well with graduate degrees and high-falutin’ careers?

Though the first half of Orszag’s piece was data serving stereotypes (those irresponsible, self-defeating poor people), he got one thing right:

“Having a tattoo is a permanent symbol of rebellion, signaling that you don’t buy into the norms established by an out-of-touch elite. Any labor-market or health risks involved are easily trumped by the satisfaction of showing that you’re willing to play by a different set of rules.”

Agreed. Though I’d say this is only part of the ‘why’ for many. The very personal and sociological ‘why’ depends deeply on not only a person’s income and age, but also on his or her culture, ethnicity, race and religion. Plus, rebellion and ‘disruption’ are so in vogue that normcore had to come about to counter them.

As for me, I got my first ink over 15 years ago as a reminder of my ethnic heritage. Few knew that I had it done. The newest, I’m planning, will be where everyone can see it, and I can’t wait. This one—surely not my last—will be both personal again (tied to my daughter) and rebellious.

Look, I’m in my 40’s, have 20 years of amazing, wild career in my pocket, and frankly, have no desire to work with anyone who would judge me (or anyone else) negatively because of a tattoo. So yes, my ink-scales have tipped a bit more toward rebellion. Well, I’ve earned it.

After all, this is the great tradition of Winston Churchill, Dorothy Parker and even Thomas Edison. Uh-oh. His tattoo just gave me a great idea. Keep an eye on my Instagram, @carmenritaw.

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