Men of History, Why Did You Grow Your Beards?

George Harrison; George Harrison’s beard. Photo: Tim Boxer/Getty Images

Why do men do the things they do? What do men want? Why do they beard?

Slow your questions: A new paper about male primates, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, addresses all of this business. Scientists at the University of Western Australia examined 154 species of primates. They found that males employ more conspicuous “badges” (like facial hair) in large societies with more pressure, where there is more social and physical conflict. In small societies, individuals have time to demonstrate their status and strength. “In large groups where individuals are surrounded by strangers, we need a quick reliable tool to evaluate someone’s strength and quality,” said the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Cyril Grueter, “and that’s where these elaborate ornaments come in.”

Grueter argues this accounts for the popularity of beards among British men between 1842 and 1971, during a surge of males in the marriage pool.

What about all men of all time: Why have they grown their beards? Let’s ask them, shall we?