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March 17, 2003

Why hairy?

The_Alpha_Male emailed me today about something we had been talking about earlier-why are some groups more hirsute then others? He watched the ice age documentary on human evolution on The Discovery Channel (standard PC pap masquarading the more realist implications) and it mentioned that hair might have been detrimental when it became wet and frozen (ergo Northeast Asians are not very hairy). Of course, that would imply that northern Europeans should be less hairy than their southron brethren or the peoples of the Levant. I invite you to do some research and come back with what you find [1]. OK, you get my point, something is fishy in this explanation.

Anyone hear of anything more plausible? I think it probably has to do with neoteny, as in my experience people continue to get more & more body hair as they age (past puberty obviously). I think this is analogous to northern Europeans who tend to lose their blondeness after puberty.

[1] Woe unto he who fetishes hairy wide-hipped Chinese women....

Posted by razib at 02:25 AM




In Marco Polo's book, there is some story about ancient Russia and how it got so cold that travellers used to move in-between closely built cabins, where they would heat up before taking the next leg of their journey. One anecdote is how a man's wife had to "use the bathroom" in between stops, and how her husband had to heat her up with the result that his beard got frozen and entangled to the child-bearing part of her anatomy.

On a more serious note, in most of Western Europe, even at high latitudes the temperature is not as high as in the corresponding latitude of e.g., the Americas or Asia, due to the Gulf Stream. I would have to check the "hairiness" data, but my impression is that Northern and Eastern Europeans have less body hair than other Europeans.

Posted by: Dienekes Pontikos at March 17, 2003 02:40 AM


well-it is true that northern europe doesn't freeze like north america or china. for instance, new york city winter temperatures can be found on the arctic circle coast of norway. i am open to the suggestion that northerners are less hairy than southern europeans-but i have always believed that is a function of the lighter coloration (you can't see their hair as easily against their skin as opposed to dark-haired light skinned southerners). ass that i am, i used to tell a g/f of mine who was fair complected that if she was as dark as her jewish roommate i could see her "mustache" in greater detail and she too would have to get electrolysis so that i could eat & look at her at the same time....

and i've seen russian porn, those fuckers are hairy. i've never seen southern european or arab porn, so i can't compare.

some with more knowledge about these sort of things can contribute.

a good experiment that i can think of is getting a bunch of european men to wear short-shorts and have them sit in one of those chairs you have in high school with the bolts that catch hair. see how much is torn off and left behind per person.

Posted by: razib at March 17, 2003 02:54 AM


Razib, isn't this one of those situations where Dawkinsian everything's-an-adaption thinking becomes goofy? I mean, saying some ethnicities are hairier than others for non-functional, non-increasing-reproductive-fitness reasons isn't the most intellectually satisfying explanation, but there's no reason it couldn't be true in some cases. Right?

Posted by: Justin Slotman at March 17, 2003 09:24 AM


justin, it wouldn't be surprised.

but there is probably some reason homo sapiens lost most of its hair-that is a pretty drastic "spandrel." but like i said, i think it's a side effect.

Posted by: razib at March 17, 2003 12:00 PM


Evolution sucks,as hair leaves the head it sprouts in ears,on the back and freakin' eyebrows!

Posted by: M. at March 17, 2003 06:11 PM


doesn't make sense... most animals in the north are hairier than animals in the tropics... e.g. siberian tigers, mammoth elephants...

Posted by: glug at March 17, 2003 08:11 PM


Ah, this thread has sent me on a wonderful trip down memory lane of all the delightful chest hair I have had the pleasure of snuggling with in my life.

My "global scavenger hunt" of men is far from complete, but my experience so far has been that Asians (northeast and south) are not very hairy, but most other ethnicities have at least some hairy men amongst them.

The hairiest guys in my experience were British, Irish, Danish, Arab, and a guy who was mixed white/black/latino.

Most of the guys I've dated who were overweight tended to have less chest hair then those who were not. Not sure if there's a correlation there or just my experience.

Also, there is a definite correlation between chest hair and performance in bed! Better yet, a man who is balding AND hairy -- ladies, take my advice, these guys are the BEST!

Mmm... hairy men.

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 18, 2003 12:15 AM


Well i wonder then are hairy bald women better in bed...

Posted by: ShakeyKane at March 18, 2003 12:28 AM


The only thing I know is that dieting women are not good in bed. Dieting decreases your libido and makes you cranky.

I don't know much else about which types of women are better or worse in bed, because I don't want to have sex with women, so I don't pay much attention to them.

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 18, 2003 01:59 AM


Putting on weight increases estrogen levels in men. Could be an explanation for why overweight men would have less chest hair.
The hairiest people I've seen have been a couple of Scots-Irish guys who were just covered with hair. Could be coincidence though.
I do think that the whole hairiness thing is more likely to be an evolutionary artifact of some sort than a useful adaptation. There just isn't enough of a pattern.

Posted by: bbartlog at March 18, 2003 08:49 AM


This seems as good a place as any for this. Why, in HBD and evolutionary sense, do men go bald, surely its something that evolution should be getting rid of, and least slowly. Especially be sexual selection.

Posted by: Rob at March 18, 2003 01:33 PM


most men that go bald go bald later on in life (my dad didn't start losing his hair until his early 40s for instance and is still not really bald, just thinned out in the back like al gore). in the days of yore they'd be dead by then.

also-i think male pattern baldness is some side effect of higher testosterone or something. my family doesn't suffer from it, so i haven't really looked into it though...but that's what i remember hearing.

Posted by: razib at March 18, 2003 02:12 PM


higher DHT, not Testosterone accelerates male pattern hair loss in individuals who are genetically predisposed.

Posted by: the alpha male at March 18, 2003 05:43 PM


I don't see why baldness would be bred out -- bald is sexy!!!

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 18, 2003 07:15 PM


Obviously there must be a benefit in baldness. This benefit may be hidden though by the nature of modern society.

If its not ill just assume that baldness prone-men knowing they are going to go bald by seeing thier father's turn bald would be more motivated to find a marraige partner at a younger age.

Posted by: ShakeyKane at March 18, 2003 10:44 PM