How attractive a woman finds a man — and her level of interest in a one-night stand or a long-term relationship — may depend on how recently he’s picked up a razor.
Whether a man is clean-shaven, bearded or somewhere in between is strongly associated with a woman’s sexual interest, shows a recent study from researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia.
The study found that women are more likely to be interested in a fling with a man who has five or 10 days of stubble than someone who is freshly shaven or has a full beard.
But when it comes to a long-term commitment, the beard beckons. Women who were asked to select the best fit for a future spouse or someone to start a family with most often selected men with beards or heavy stubble.
The study, appearing in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, found a “significant interaction between beardedness and masculinity on attractiveness ratings.”
Here’s How It Worked
The Queensland researchers divided more than 8,500 women into three groups and showed them images of men with different amounts of facial hair. Using a computer to manipulate the appearance of facial hair, the researchers were able to produce images of the same men with varying looks — from clean-shaven to a light stubble and from a heavy stubble to fully bearded.
The researchers then posed distinct questions to each group. For the first group, they asked about the man’s overall attractiveness. Here the sex appeal went to the stubble; women found a heavy stubble, or about 10 days of growth, the most attractive, followed by a light stubble, which corresponded to about five days of growth.
Women in the second group, who were asked to rate the men based on how appealing they were for a one-night stand or short-term fling, also were suckers for the stubble. This time, they found a light stubble the most attractive, followed by a heavy stubble, “suggesting that the scruffy look appeals to women looking for fun, but not commitment,” as the New York Times puts it.
Researchers went a different route for the third group of women, this time asking about a man’s attractiveness as an option for a longer relationship, including the possibility of marriage and having children. It turns out that women seeking commitment believe that men with beards or a heavy stubble are the best mates.
“Our findings suggest that beardedness may be attractive when judging long-term relationships as a signal of intrasexual formidability and the potential to provide direct benefits to females,” wrote the study authors.
In other words, having a beard may signal to women “a male’s ability to compete for resources,” said the researchers.
Co-author Barnaby Dixson, a Human Behavioral Ecologist at the University of Queensland, told the New York Times that both women and men attribute the characteristics of being older and more masculine to having a beard, as well as being “generous, sincere, industrious and self-confident.”
For men who are ready to settle down, they may want to leave the shaving cream and razor beneath the sink.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.