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2. Then proceed to a crucial question: Can a beard get you laid?
The question dates back to Old Man Darwin, who wrote in 1871’s The Descent of Man that facial hair was clearly a result of sexual selection. Humans are the only primates with a chin—a feature that not even our early cousins the Neanderthals could grow. “There’s a lot of debate about whether the chin rose as a result of sexual selection,” says Zaneta Thayer, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Northwestern University, who has studied sexual dimorphism and chin shape. She says large chins are a result of “excess cortical bone formation,” which is driven by testosterone. Perhaps our chiseled ancestors outlived their chinless counterparts because the extra hormones made them bigger and more aggressive—and therefore more desirable. “It could have been a sign that you’re a high-quality mate,” she says, adding that beards may have helped the chin look even larger.
Fast-forward to modern times: In many cultures, beards remain a symbol of sexual vitality and masculinity. A 1970 paper published in the journal Nature, for example, compared rates of beard growth and the expectation of sex. After collecting and weighing his own shavings every 24 hours, the author, who was living on a remote island, claimed his beard grew faster the day before he planned to visit the mainland, where his potential for making whoopee increased. “Even the presence of particular female company in the absence of intercourse, after a period of separation, usually caused an obvious increase in beard growth,” he wrote. Then there’s a 2001 paper from the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior in which a researcher studied British beard fashions from 1842 to 1971 and concluded that men let their beards grow longer when they had trouble attracting spouses. Abundant facial hair, it seemed, offered the bachelors a way to stand out from other suitors. No word on whether this tactic was successful.