Q: What sorts of messages does a beard send, and why?
- Masculinity (Dixson & Brooks, 2013)
- Aggressiveness and dominance (Archer, 2009)
- Maturity (numerous studies)
- A beard may be associated with these traits because:
- Older men can grow beards and younger men can’t (so it’s associated with age and maturity)
- It’s associated with higher male hormones (aggression and masculinity)
Q: What sorts of messages does being clean-shaven send, and why?
- Youthfulness (for the same reason that beards project age and maturity)
- One study in 1991 had 48 people (both male and female) rate 16 faces with various stages of hair loss and facial hair (Wogalter & Hosie, 1991).
- Clean-shaven faces were regarded more favorably, more attractive, and more sociable
- It’s possible that the “sociable” finding is related to the “aggressiveness” finding with beards: having a beard means you’re more dominant and aggressive (less friendly or social) and being clean-shaven means you’re less aggressive and more social.
- However, I don’t feel this is a very strong study, because it doesn’t report enough of its methodology.
Q: Does facial hair affect how people perceive men?
- In a 2013 study of facial hair and perceptions of men’s attractiveness, health, masculinity, and parenting abilities, researchers asked both men and women to rate photographs of a man with various stages of facial hair (Dixson & Brooks, 2013). They found:
- 1. When comparing clean-shaven, light stubble, heavy stubble, and full beard, both men and women tended to view compared to the others – women especially saw light stubble as the least attractive.
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, both men and women’s ratings of masculinity increased as facial hair increased. More facial hair = more masculine.
- Clean-shaven and full beards received higher ratings on perceived health, and light and heavy stubble received lower ratings on perceived health.
- Women perceived full beards as indicating better parenting skills.
- 1. Possibly connected to the idea of maturity.
- Heavy stubble was perceived as most attractive by women.
- HOWEVER, there are some things to keep in mind from this study.
- Not all studies agree on what is most attractive.
- Neave and Shields (2008) found that light stubble is more attractive than beards and clean-shaven (but they didn’t compare light vs heavy)
- Some studies find that beards are rated more attractive, some have found the opposite.
- I personally think that this study (the 2013) is really the best quality of all of them, however.
- Also, it’s possible that cultural rules and trends have changed enough between 2008 and 2013 to change how beards are perceived. Beards are trendy these days.
- The male models they used had the ability to grow full beards. This means the results don’t apply to men who can’t grow full beards who let their stubble grow in. They could be the same for those men, but they might not. Personally, I think the results would be very different if a guy can’t grow a full beard, and his stubble grows out in patches.
Q: Any studies on facial hair and employability?
A: There are a few, but they’re not as strong as the one mentioned above.
- One study in 1990 showed ink sketches of clean shaven, mustached, and bearded men to a group of 288 people in management positions. They found:
- Bearded men were rated as more attractive, having better personality, more competent, and having greater composure than those who were clean-shaven.
- However, this was 1990, and they were rating ink sketches. Not a super strong study for today.
- More recently, Gillette commissioned a study of over 500 HR professionals on grooming and employment. The survey found that:
- 1. 84% agreed that “well-groomed employees” are more successful than those who are not well-groomed.
- But remember, “well-groomed” doesn’t always mean clean-shaven.
- 2. “Almost two-thirds” believed that a candidate can distinguish himself from other candidates with his physical appearance.
- 3. 90% agreed that a well-groomed candidate projects confidence.
- 4. More than half believed a poorly-groomed candidate is projecting that they are not interested in the position.
- 5. 83% believed that being clean-shaven is “at least somewhat important” in making a good first impression.
- 6. HOWEVER, there are reasons that I’m skeptical about the conclusions of the Gillette study:
- They were commissioned by a company trying to sell something. This doesn’t prove the study is bunk, it just makes me wonder about some of what they report.
- They don’t report their methodology, their sample characteristics, or all the questions they asked. Their reporting is weird – they shift from percentages (like 83%) to word descriptions (more than half), probably an attempt to doctor up the results. They might have simply failed to report any results that went against what they wanted to say.
- A lot of the reporting is odd. For instance, they say: “HR professionals cited facial stubble as one of the biggest red flags when meeting a job candidate for the first time.” BUT they don’t say HOW MANY say that – it could be less than 1%!
Q: Does having a beard affect how men perceive themselves?
- One study by Wood in 1986 had clean-shaven men put on either false beards, bandanas, or nothing (control) and look in a mirror.
- The men then filled out a common survey of gender traits.
- The men wearing beards rated themselves as more masculine than those who wore bandanas or were simply themselves.
Q: Does the type of job or setting influence how beards are perceived?
- One study by Hellstrom and Tekle (1994) had judges rate pictures of faces with various combinations of glasses, beards, and hair styles. They found:
- Those with beards were rated as “unconventional” and “good.”
- Then, judges tried to guess the occupations of the people in the pictures.
- The possible occupations were: physician, lawyer, professor, engineer, managing director, factory worker, artist, pastor, colonel, politician, diplomat, psychologist, farmer, salesman, and bank clerk.
- The results tell us something about where beards tend to be seen as acceptable:
|Professions associated with beards||Professions associated with clean-shaven||Professions associated with both/neither|
- Generally, more “liberal” settings are more accepting of beards (lecture rooms, laboratories, concert halls, artist studios), and more “conservative” settings are less accepting of beards (banks, courts, board rooms, military units).
This is a 20-year-old study, but I bet the results wouldn’t be too different if they did the study again.