Why, evo­lu­tion­ar­ily speak­ing, do men have beards and women don’t?

Guru Magazine - - Ask A Guru - Asked by Sarah Cot­tle

…We both have armpit, leg and arm hair in sim­i­lar amounts, so why do men ben­e­fit from fa­cial hair and women don’t?! Good ques­tion – let’s try and get to the root of it. (Groan – Ed.) Why do men typ­i­cally have more fa­cial hair? Well, as with many char­ac­ter­is­tic male traits, the an­swer lies with testos­terone (you know, that hor­mone that makes you want to burp, fight, and tell your in-laws of­fen­sive jokes?). As well as hav­ing many other im­por­tant ef­fects, testos­terone in­creases the growth rate of fa­cial hair, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for men to form some rather hand­some beards. In fact, one of the side ef­fects of testos­terone ther­apy can be a hairier face. But why would this be a good thing evo­lu­tion­ar­ily? It’s hard to say: hu­man evo­lu­tion hap­pened over hun­dreds of thou­sands of years, and, for the ma­jor­ity of that time, we were prob­a­bly just hit­ting each other with clubs. (Per­haps – Ed.) How­ever, there are a cou­ple of plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions… The first such ex­pla­na­tion is that hair keeps us warm. You can imag­ine that the hunter­gath­erer life­style of the early man in­volved brav­ing some pretty chilly weather. In this re­spect, in­creased fa­cial hair may have helped ward off frost­bite, leav­ing our an­ces­tral hero’s lips in­tact for a good smooch with the mis­sus when he got home to his cave. Another ex­pla­na­tion could be sex­ual se­lec­tion – the idea that evo­lu­tion favours traits which make you more at­trac­tive to the op­po­site sex. Per­haps early hu­man fe­males found beards an ir­re­sistible aphro­disiac. We know that fa­cial hair is some­what cor­re­lated with testos­terone, and testos­terone lev­els are cor­re­lated with male fer­til­ity… so it makes sense, then, to go for males with bushy beards who are just brim­ming with ‘man-ness’. Al­ter­na­tively, there’s al­ways the pos­si­bil­ity that, once upon a time, fe­males also had large amounts of fa­cial hair, and it was a chap’s pref­er­ence for less fa­cial hair in a po­ten­tial mate that caused women to lose this hair over time. I hope that gives you some­thing to think about, Sarah. For now, I beard you farewell. (I’m so sorry – I couldn’t re­sist.)

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