When I was 19, my dad got a tattoo. Already having two of my own, and thinking tattoos were mostly for the younger folk, this was just another testament to how cool my father was. Of course, I would later learn that tattoos had been around far longer than I could have imagined, and that it was, in fact, our dads, granddads, and great-granddads that had popularised them (at least in North America). More than that, though, I would come to learn that every generation, every era, has its own, unique tattoo culture – and that there is an actual science behind that.
Sociology professor Jerome Koch, along with a group of researchers dubbed The Body Art Team, has spent the last 14 years studying body modification from a scientific perspective. Several of their findings fly in the face of common stereotypes; almost ¼ of “well-integrated, mainstream” college students have a tattoo, women are now just as likely to get tattooed as men, and dad having a tattoo isn’t near as uncommon as one may think: about 24% of the tattoos in North America belong to someone over 40.
Half a century earlier, however, the trends were very different, and probably not in the ways you would think. Tattoos of the 1950s and 60s were almost entirely the domain of people over 30. Belonging mainly to bikers, artists, and army/navy members, it was not the youth that felt compelled to get tattooed, but those that had years of experience being outsiders or part of a smaller subculture or community. Go back still another fifty years, and you may be surprised to find women made up a huge percentage of those tattooed, and even farther back, we’ll find it was the richer and older population that had the most ink. Stereotypes became outdated so fast, it’s a wonder any took hold at all.
That’s not to say there is no consistency, however. As you may have guessed from the title and the day of this posting, fathers have always made up a significant percentage of the tattooed. Regardless of sociological fads, eras, generations, or prevalent subcultures, the one group we can always rely on to boost body mod numbers are fathers. Despite all the many changes in demographics and trends, one particular theme jumps out at us in each and every study: as far back as it is possible to research, “familial or tribal pride” has been the #1 reason men over 25 offered for getting tattooed. It is, in fact, the only consistency that can be found – literally everything else changes from era to era – from average age to economic status to gender to subculture – but fathers always have dominated the tattoo landscape, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Happy Father’s day to all of you, from all of us at I-Kandy.