The beard effect

So I grew a beard, then got rid of it…

When I was 31 I decided I would try growing a beard. I had the perfect opportunity, a 3 week holiday in the form of my honeymoon, long enough to pass through the scruffy-looking tramp beard stage. I’ve not got that heavy a stubble, and my beard is quite ginger, so it needed all the help it could get!

After a year I decided to give it the chop. Enough people said they liked it for me to keep it going for quite a while (most women said they liked it), but not quite enough people for me to really feel it was for me. The tricky thing is that people are quite hesitant about telling you what they really think about it – they either tell you they like it (though they may just be being polite), or they say nothing at all, which is the polite way of saying that it makes you look like a tit.

… but not before doing some quantitative analysis

So anyway I decided to shave it off. However, when I cut it off I thought I would take the opportunity to do a bit of quantitative analysis of the effect my beard had on what people thought of me. In particular, many people had said that they thought it made me look more authoritative or older. But how much older? And if it did make people think I looked older than I really was?

I hit upon the idea of using the rather splendid website guessmyage.net. As a visitor to guessmyage.net you get shown a picture of a person and you have to type in how old you think they are. On hitting submit you get to see not only the real age but also the average of everyone else’s guesses. This page also shows you another person, and you just can’t resist having another go. And so it goes compellingly on.

When I shaved my beard off I took a succession of photos showing me in various stages of debeardification. We had some fun with it…

2008 beard fun

I then submitted the following two photos to guessmyage.net, together with my actual age which at that time was 32 though very close to my 33rd birthday. I then waited until I’d got 50 responses on each photo. The results are shown below:

2008-beard2

So it turns out that my beard aged me by 4 years. But also that people clearly think I looked a great deal younger than I really was, so much so that people still thought I was 3 years younger than I really was even with my beard.

(I have a residual concern that my photos weren’t quite similar enough. In my bearded one I’m smiling a bit more, so my crow’s feet are a bit clearer. )

Proper Research

This is all very consistent with academic research on the effect of beards on perceived age. Dixson and Vasey (2012) contrasted otherwise identical pictures of men with either a very full beard or being clean-shaven, and found that having a beard led to men being perceived as…

  • Older (by 2-3 years)
  • Higher social status
  • More aggressive
  • Less attractive

The literature is thoroughly confusing on the question of whether beards are actually attractive. Dixson & Brooks (2013) found that the most attractive level of beardedness was of intermediate length. Reed & Blunk (1990) found that beards made prospective management job candidates more likely to be chosen, whereas Muscarella & Cunningham (1996) found that beards were considered less attractive. And Janif, Brooks & Dixson (2014) found that attractiveness was influenced by whether beards were ‘normal’ or unusual, leading to many news articles talking about the current fashion for beards perhaps resulting in us hitting “peak beard”.

Finally, this study found that cats do not like men with long dark beards or with ‘incomplete’ beards. Something to bear in mind, I’m sure you’ll agree.

5 years later

A few years later, then aged 37, I decided to grow my beard back. I had a new job as an independent consultant and so I felt it would be a good thing to make myself look older and wiser. I keep it shorter these days – better to be light than fuzzy, I reckon. I submitted another pair of photos to the website. This time I took more care to make sure my facial expression was identical between the two, and gathered more responses too. Here’s the result:

Average age with beard: 32. Age without beard: 30

So there you have it, these days my beard adds 2 years to my perceived age. But is this a statistically significant result?

In an earlier version of this post I’d asked people to predict what the age difference would be.

Beard poll results graph

They over-egged it a little, with a mean guess of 3 years. But that’s provided me with a crude indication of variation in perception. This is enough to confirm that the difference is statistically significant (t-test, n=200, p<0.01), which will be a weight off your mind, I’m sure.

What to measure next?

For now I’m planning on keeping my beard. I don’t have an easy way of statistically measuring its effect on my perceived attractiveness, intelligence, social status, aggressiveness or appeal to cats. Putting a poll here won’t be much good because you’ve read the article so you’ll be influenced by that. But feel free to post a comment with your views!

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10 thoughts on “The beard effect

  1. A comment from Matt, one of my friends in my Facebook feed:
    A springboard for future experiments ? What’s the effect of a pair of glasses ? Also, you should throw in another variable given you are in the world of consulting, what % more intelligent (perceived) does a beard add ? And how much extra income could that drive?

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    1. Nice idea Matt. I seem to recall that previous research shows that glasses significantly raise your perceived IQ, but the effect disappears as soon as you start talking!

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    2. Think outside of your age group – if you are old, having a beard disguises the visual effects of aging and makes you appear younger 🙂

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  2. This is quite interesting indeed! For what it’s worth, I find you way more attractive with the beard, at first glance. In fact, something made me wary about the beardless ones–it’s hard to put my finger on it, but it was a negative sort of youthfulness thing. Like I’d just seen a student who hadn’t really grown up yet and still partied a bit too much and could potentially get vicious when drunk. You look even slightly hung over without the beard, so maybe it comes from there (No, don’t ask me where that came from; I’m just reporting what my subconscious says.) Whereas the beardy photos made it look like the sort of guy I could sit and have a cup of tea and a chat with, a guy who was an adult. The beardy guy I’d go out for a pint with, the beardless guy I’d probably turn down. Gosh, it feels weird to say that (and hope your missus won’t punch me). Some women are attracted to boyish looks but I guess I’m just attracted to more mature looks. Or supervillains. I really don’t know what it is, but the beard really seems to balance the bottom half of your face.

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  3. The first time you grew your ” beard ” it was a good bit thicker then the second. I would recommend growing your beard longer and if trying to compare 2 separate time events ensuring the variables are as close as possible. non-smiling people generally tend to look older btw

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