Tattoos become common among the Millennial generation

From Chinese characters to Bible verses to butterflies and peace signs, tattoos are inked into American society as a form of self-expression by the Millennial generation.

Millennials across the nation are increasingly using tattoos as a form of self-expression. Nearly every two in five Millennials has a tattoo according to the Pew Research Center.

Julie Yingling, an assistant professor in criminology at South Dakota State University, said, “younger generations see them as meaningful reflections of their identity and view them as art.”

Jacob Jantzer, a lecturer in sociology and rural studies, also notes Millennials’ changed perception in tattoos.

“As Millennials are less likely to be religious and less likely to participate in civic organizations, they need to create an identity or myth about how they fit into the world and create a narrative of their life,” Jantzer said. “They [Millennials] are marking their bodies to show the story of their lives because of the need to make their own story.”

Jessica Addington, a biology pre-veterinary science major at SDSU, got her tattoo because it connected her to her brother.

“He was in karate and the Shaolin Tiger represented the kind of karate he did, and we got it together,” Addington said about the tiger on her right shoulder blade. “It meant something to me … it means something different to each person, but for me I only want tattoos that mean something to me.”

Millennials represent half of all tattooed Americans, roughly 20 percent of the nation according to Jantzer, and the popularity of tattoos to the generation is a stark contrast to older generations.

Tattoos were typically associated with three groups in U.S. history: sailors, criminals and circus members according to Yingling.

“Tattoos were less a part of everyday culture and were viewed rather negatively as marginalized groups displayed them,” Yingling said.

Daniel Scholl, a Brookings community member and an associate dean of agricultural biological sciences at SDSU, is a member of the Baby Boomer generation. Scholl testifies that tattoos were typically a part of Yingling’s groups. He does not have any tattoos himself.

“They [tattoos] are much more typical now than when I was a young adult,” Scholl said. “They were associated with a few different, narrowly defined sets in society and now they’re not.”

Scholl believes that younger people are getting tattoos more so now than when he was a young adult because it is more acceptable in today’s society.

Although Scholl accepts this change in perception Yingling said that Scholl differs from the normal perception of older generations.

“Older generations often do not understand this change in perception as they recall only deviant society members embracing tattoos,” Yingling said.

Only 15 percent of Baby Boomers wear body art and only six percent of Silents, those born between 1925 and 1945, have a tattoo. But older generations’ perceptions do not stop younger generations from getting the body art.

Addington plans to add another tattoo of her dogs’ paw prints soon.

“They are addicting, which is strange,” Addington said. “It’s just an addiction that you just start to have.”

“I have 23 tattoos,” said Riley Galvin, a mechanical engineering major at SDSU. “I have enough stars [as tattoos] to cover up the night sky … It started as one and I loved it, and then I was just going to add on but couldn’t decide what to get, so I got pieces. I’m waiting to combine all of them together.”

Although Galvin easily exceeds the average amount of tattoos for most Millennials, each of her tattoos can be easily hidden. According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of adults with tattoos said their tattoos are not usually visible.

“I’ve been working for the same company for three years, but my boss just noticed one [of my tattoos] behind the ear,” Galvin said. “Every single one of mine are cover-up-able … because if you’re going to work any job other than at McDonalds you need to pull off a professional style when at work, and tattoos … do not look professional in a workplace environment.”

Whether visible or not, Pew Research Center notes that tattoos have become a “trademark” of the Millennial generation.