You may be inclined to make your future husband shave for the big day. After all, it’s tradition. But did you know, scientists have confirmed facial hair makes men more attractive? And we all know the hotter the hubby, the better those wedding portraits will turn out.
Last year, a team of researchers from Australia published a study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology that sought to investigate the connections between facial hair, masculinity, and attractiveness in short- and long-term relationships. More than 9,000 women rated a selection of photos of men’s faces, some of which had been altered to make the subjects appear more masculine and more feminine. They were asked to consider sexual attractiveness for a short-term relationship, a long-term relationship, and with no relationship status indicated.
According to the results, participants thought the men sporting heavy stubble (that is, 10 days since they shaved) were the most attractive, followed by men sporting light stubble (five days of regrowth). Relationship context also played a part in how attractive women deemed the subjects. In short, women preferred light and heavy stubble when considering the subject for a fun fling, and gravitated toward fully bearded men as they contemplated who they’d be willing to make babies with.
Past research has shown women were more attracted to masculine men when judging for short-term rather than a long-term relationship. “A full beard,” the current study’s authors note, “therefore, conveniently masks the masculine facial shape that women tend not to find attractive for a long-term prospect while simultaneously signaling sexual and social maturity and, potentially, a greater likelihood and capacity to invest.”
Researchers go on to suggest that “beards may be more attractive to women when considering long-term than short-term relationships as they indicate a male’s ability to successfully compete socially with other males for resources.” They point to a 2001 longitudinal analysis of men’s facial hair trends in London from 1871 to 1972 that found that “beards became more common when the marriage market was more male-biased and the degree of intrasexual competition to attract mates was augmented.”
Rob Brooks, a professor of evolution at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, is one of the authors on the current study. “The link between competition and beards suggests that men’s shaving habits are about other men far more than they are about directly appealing to women,” he wrote earlier this year. “While evidence suggests beards have equivocal, weak effects on attractiveness, studies unite on the point that bearded men look more masculine and more mature than men who shave. It is no coincidence that the playoff beard finds the most enthusiasts in hockey—that most aggressive of North American professional sports.”
Heterosexual women aren’t the only ones shooting a side eye of interest toward the beautifully bearded, though. Research published in the March edition of Evolution and Human Behavior found that gay men “on average preferred hairier stimuli than women, supporting their higher preferences for overall masculinity.”
In surveying beard-related research literature, we did discover one interesting exception. According to a study that investigated the link between politics and facial hair, researchers found that women were less likely to vote for a politician sporting a beard or mustache. They thought they looked too masculine, and, as a result, would be less receptive to passing feminist policies.
But a glance at the 13 clean-shaven men who worked together on the Senate’s version of the health care reform bill—which would make it harder for women to access crucial care—reveals a lawmaker doesn’t have to have stubble to repel half the U.S. population.