|Facial hair makes men seem more physically and socially dominant, a plus factor for women in terms of attractiveness. However, evolutionary fear of hair-borne pests may repulse other women, according to a new study / Photo by: Maxim Lupascu via 123RF|
Facial hair makes men seem more physically and socially dominant, a plus factor for women in terms of attractiveness. However, evolutionary fear of hair-borne pests may repulse other women, according to a new study.
Published in the journal Royal Society Publishing, women generally rated full-bearded men with strong masculine features as the most attractive. But women who reported higher attraction to clean-shaven men are also those who are most afraid of parasites and pests such as ticks and lice.
The researchers also claim their work supports the idea that female disgust for facial hair caused ancient humans to evolve less hair to avoid disease-carrying parasites.
Researchers asked 919 women to rate the attractiveness of 30 photographs of male faces for long-term and short-term relationships. The faces varied in beardedness, from clean-shaven to full beards, and were edited to look feminine (30%) and masculine (60%). There was also a survey measuring the participants' level of disgust based on images of parasites.
Out of the 662 women who said they were in a relationship, only 148 (22%) had male partners with full beards while 194 (29%) are clean-shaven and the rest (48%) had non-bearded facial hair.
Women whose partners have beards rated bearded faces as more attractive for both short-term and long-term attractiveness—which supports the researchers' hypothesis that the degree of facial hair women reported in their partners was associated with their preference for beardedness.
The researchers also examined whether there is an association between the beardedness of the participants' fathers and their preference for beards. From the total sample of 919, 754 women reported their father's beardedness when they were young.
The results show 362 (48%) of the women said their fathers were clean-shaven, 311 (41%) had non-bearded facial hair, and 81 (11%) had full beards. Although more women have clean-shaven fathers, it doesn't necessarily mean they are more attracted to men of the same features.
"There was no association between father's beardedness and women's preferences for beards, providing no support for imprinting effects on women's facial hair preferences," the researchers wrote.
An Evolutionary Perspective
The study concluded that women find men with a masculine, bearded face as most attractive for both short-term and long-term relationships. This attractiveness may be due to the perception that masculine faces make men appear physically stronger and more socially dominant.
Facial hairs emphasize masculine traits such as having a large jaw while hiding unattractive parts of the male's face, the researchers noted.
Meanwhile, who had higher disgust levels or afraid of parasites reported lower attraction to bearded men. This finding may be due to the women's perception of beards as a sign of poor grooming habits.
Weekly news magazine Newsweek says the results support the "ectoparasite avoidance hypothesis"—which believes early humans evolved to have less hair as women avoided excessively hairy men to avoid contracting disease-carrying pests.
While the study provides the first evidence to back the hypothesis, the researchers are wary of making too many conclusions before other works draw the same findings, Newsweek reports.
A notable finding is that women who had higher "disgust of pathogens"—a judgment of their feelings on body odor, stepping on dog feces, or mold on leftover food—are more likely to prefer beards, which they see as indicators of good health.
The research team noted that other factors (social, economic, and ecological) can easily influence a person's preference for facial hair. They also cautioned that the demographics of their study are of US women, meaning it may not reflect the preferences of other communities, the news magazine adds.
Greater Preference for Bearded Men
Previous studies have shown similar results of women finding men with beards more attractive compared to their clean-shaven counterparts.
A national survey by PrimandPrep.com, a male grooming service advisor, found that bearded 57% of their female respondents found bearded men attractive as opposed to the 50% who said the same for clean-shaven men.
However, the same survey found that more women perceive men with facial hair as more unattractive (21%) than clean-shaven men (7%).
"That means 3 times more women think beards are 'unattractive' relative to clean-shaven," Prim&Prep said in their report.
The survey also ranked seven of the most popular facial hairstyles from most attractive to least attractive. Among the facial hairstyles, the short stubble was ranked as the most attractive with 80% ranking in the top three and an average rank of 2.6.
Clean-shaven was a close second, receiving an average rank of 2.7 with 72% ranking in the top three. Interestingly, this facial hairstyle gained more respondents (38%) compared to the short stubble (24%) in ranking as the most attractive style.
"Many women responded that the attractiveness of the beard was contingent on the quality and upkeep of the beard. It seems many who have beards don’t do the proper maintenance necessary to keep their beards looking neat, clean, and healthy," the grooming service advisor added.