Caroline New, a 28-year-old grants coordinator in the development department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was a 20-year-old college student when she got five Asian characters tattooed down her arm. Written in ancient Korean script, each represented an attribute that New "wanted to remind myself of and incorporate in my life ... courage, acceptance." However, as the years past, and she transitioned from a young museum intern to a busy employee, she grew concerned about the body art.

"I didn't dislike [the characters]," she said. In fact, I very much liked them. I just disliked how I thought other people would perceive them." Specifically, New was concerned that the tattoos appeared unprofessional. "I work in fundraising. There's definitely a culture in my department, a little bit more corporate than the rest of the museum. So while I've certainly seen plenty of art handlers and people across other departments that have tattoos and are showing them quite openly, and while it was never indicated that I couldn't, I never saw anybody else [from my department] with them."

And so, two years ago, New underwent eight laser sessions -- at $250 each -- to remove the characters, though she opted to keep her other, less-visible tattoos. "Now I have a little bit more flexible wardrobe," she explains. "I'm no longer only wearing the long sleeved cardigans like I was my first year here." More importantly, New believes it was a good professional move. "I remember the first time my boss saw [my shoulder tattoo]. I saw her out of the office, in town. She looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again, looked at me again, and then didn't say anything. I don't think she reacted negatively, but I could tell she was a little shocked to see that I did have a tattoo."

New's experience is not unusual. According to Time magazine, roughly 16% of people with tattoos eventually elect to have them removed. And that number is growing. Which isn't necessarily surprising. Sometimes, the love of our life, whose name we permanently inked across our bicep, turns out to be a fling. Or that image of the Tasmanian Devil that looked so cool after a night of drinking is a little less appealing in the sober light of day.

Additionally, in today's challenging economy, when unemployment continues to hover near 9%, people are also choosing to remove tattoos to appeal to potential employers. At least, that's half of the story. At the same time, others see the recession as an opportune moment to get inked, arguing that it's not only a relatively cheap splurge, but that the unemployed no longer have to conform to an employer's standards.

In either case, the end result is the same: The tattoo industry continues to thrive, seemingly recession-proof. To better understand this strange dynamic, I visited Tattoo Lou's, a family-owned chain of Long Island tattoo parlors that also offers laser tattoo removal.

Loren Berlin is a columnist at She can be reached at You can follow her on Twitter @LorenBerlin, and become a fan on Facebook.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Intro to different retirement accounts

What does it mean to have a 401(k)? IRA?

View Course »

How Financial Planners go Grocery Shopping

Learn to shop smart and save.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

August 04 2011 at 9:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I see a tatoo on somebody I immediately think they're scum until they prove otherwise.

July 18 2011 at 8:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ilm9p's comment
Paul B.

Wow. With that attitude, I can't imagine many people being able to tolerate being near you long enough to prove themselves.

July 18 2011 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So what if older people or heavier people want to have tattoos? More power to 'em! Everyone is entitled to get what they want on their bodies when they want it..........nobody else's business!

July 17 2011 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had 2 renters that could never manage to pay bills on time or in full and a nephew who is very ill and on disability so I send money to his family frequently. They all manage to get them tatoos by golly. Each one uglier than the other. Skulls and dragons, spooky stuff.... Looks like what a pervert would doodle while watching a horror movie. My nephew's daughter just graduated from HS and I had to send money to her so she could get her robe just to graduate. What did this girl get from Daddy (my nephew?) for her big accomplishment? Just exactly what she wanted, A "tasteful" shoulder tattoo. Makes my heart sing. For the same reason people buy cigarettes, illegal drugs and booze when they cannot afford to feed themselves, tattoos are also recession proof.

July 17 2011 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Northing is more beautiful than a fat man or woman covered in tattoos. Makes me want to run right out and get one.

July 17 2011 at 7:32 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Whatever your thoughts on tatoos, does anyone else find the title of the article troubling? We may be in a period of slow economic growth, but, officially, we left the recession two years ago. Saying otherwise will keep people thinking we're in a recession, which will hinder growth, which will lead to ... more tatoos?

July 16 2011 at 10:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As far as I know, people have been doing idiotic things (including self-mutilation) forever. Anything for a little attention.

July 16 2011 at 2:37 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Tattoos are just another example of the narcissism of american culture. Face it: You got your tattoo because you want attention or to gratify your cheesy vanity. When I was a kid the only people with these idiotic tattoos were thugs and louts. Today it's nothing to walk into wal-mart and see the grown-up children of America wearing baby shorts, a crooked baseball cap and a flame tattoo on the neck. We're now a nation of permanent adolescents and it doesn't bode well for our future.

July 16 2011 at 11:03 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

It makes me laugh how the people who get tattoos are trying to make themselves appear to be wild, or maverick type of people. In fact, nothing could be more true than the opposite. Ever see a gang of motorcyclists riding down the street? Every one of them looks as if they got a book on how to dress like a "biker". Every one of them has the jeans, ripped up "T" shirt, sunglasses, tattoos and hob nailed boots. Come on. It's such a worn out cliche for god's sake! You're a bunch of jerk offs who can't express yourselves at all, so you all try to look like you're bad assess. Actuall the Tattoos as stupid looking; like you fell asleep in the rain on top of the comic section of the Sunday paper.

July 15 2011 at 8:23 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

I too havea! tatoo on my shoulder and it is tasteful, done when I was 25. Now at 57 I don't regret it all...BUT when I see massive numbers of tatoo's all over the arms, legs, back and neck I just wonder what were these people thinking??? Some are so gross I cringe and know they are not professionals and more likely trailer type people. And lately have noticed old, obese women with horrible large new tatoos on their fat calves...what's up with that?>

July 15 2011 at 6:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply