Are men with beards really more sexist? Only in some cultures, replication study finds

Are men with beards more likely to be sexist? That may depend on where you live. Research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2015 found a connection between facial hair and negative attitudes about women. But a replication of that study, recently published in the same journal, has failed to find the same results.

The original study, authored by Australian researchers Julian A. Oldmeadow and Barnaby J. Dixson, surveyed 309 men from India and 223 men from the United States. The participants were questioned about their views regarding the opposite sex using the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, a survey designed to measure sexist attitudes. The participants also were shown nine computer-generated images depicting various types of facial hair (from clean-shaven to full beard) and asked to indicate which matched their own facial hair style.

Oldmeadow and Dixson found that participants with facial hair were more likely to agree with sexist statements such as, “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men.” The researchers said there may be a correlation between facial hair and sexist attitudes because it is a sexually dimorphic trait. Men might grow a beard because it increases their sexual distinction from women. “This hypothetical link between beards and sexism is not suggested to be a conscious one, but more likely mediated by masculine identity,” Oldmeadow and Dixson remarked.

In other words, men with patriarchal views may try to reinforce their “manliness” by growing a beard.

But two researchers from Sweden have disputed that explanation. Kahl Hellmer and T. Johanna Stenson’s new replication study argues that other factors can explain the link found between beards and sexism. They conducted the same study, but used a sample of 312 men from Sweden. The researchers found no link between facial hair and sexism.

The new findings (or lack thereof), Hellmer and Stenson said, suggest that the correlation between beards and sexism is not universal — but is instead entirely cultural. While beards can be a purely aesthetic choice, they can also signal memberships in particular social groups.

“We suggest that facial hair is, to some extent, used by men as a sociocultural symbol that, depending on the cultural environment, signals qualitatively distinct group memberships,” Hellmer and Stenson explained in their study. “Consequently, men in different cultures and traditions cease shaving to pursue different social group memberships, some of which may — or may not — be tied to more traditional or conservative values.”

In a more secular country like Sweden, a beard is more likely to be aesthetic. But in less secular countries like India or the United States, a beard may also indicate membership in a conservative religious group.

Oldmeadow and Dixson said they do not disagree with this assessment. But they don’t believe Hellmer and Stenson’s argument disputes their original hypothesis.

“If the relationship between facial hair and sexism is mediated by cultural groups that promote both conservative values and facial hair, the question remains why do such groups promote facial hair?” they wrote in a reply to the replication study.