Not the way this stuff works

We’ve another of those little attempts to describe science to us unwashed out here and as usual with the newspapers the point is mangled. Sure, there are more blondes than we might expect among the European population but that doesn’t men that men – or even gentlemen – prefer blondes. Hey, sure, we might have a cultural preference and all that, maybe men do err towards dumb wombs. But the facts on offer aren’t explaining this at all:

It’s in the genes: scientists reveal why gentlemen really do prefer blondes

No, sorry, not so.

It was the glamour model Heidi Klum who perhaps most pithily summed up the experience of being blonde when she compared it to “buying yourself a lightbulb”.

That may once have been written off as nothing more than lazy cliche.

But according to new evolutionary science, she was absolutely right: gentlemen really do prefer blondes.

Researchers conducting the largest ever genetic investigation into hair colour have discovered that, among people of European descent, women are 20 per cent more likely to have have blonde hair than men.

It means that, as mankind evolved, blonde women have been disproportionately more successful at passing on their genes.

It’s entirely true that more blondes in the population – it being genetically determined as long as we’re not talking about bottles – means more blondes have children that go on to have children. That’s the definition of evolutionary success, blondes are therefore more successful in those evolutionary terms.

But it doesn’t mean that men disproportionately shag blondes. It could actually mean rather the opposite, that women don’t disproportionately shag blonde men, actively discriminate against them in fact.

We need one more bit we know about this sciencey evolution stuff. The vast majority of women in the past had children. Less than the majority of men did. One estimate puts it at 80% and 40%. It is female selection of who has the kids that matters, not male.

Now, we can hypothesise that being blonde, for a child, means an increase in survival chances. Something quite likely to northern climes (Vitamin D and all that) and perhaps why the hair/skin colour evolved in the first place. OK, that explains why it spreads once extant – the existence coming from that random mutation. This would also tie in neatly with the manner in which child hair colouring is often rather lighter than it will be in the same person once adult.

Great, so we’ve a bit of natural selection to explain the spread within this population. But why would it express more in women than in men? Give that bit about who decides who gets to have children, rather than it being men pursuing blondes it would be women rejecting blonde males. Blonde/Y doesn’t reproduce, Blonde/X does (hair colour isn’t, as far as I know, on the Y, but that’s just a shorthand for male and female there).

If we think that it’s men who choose who they shag than gentlemen prefer blondes is a useful explanation of what is observed. But no one actually does think that, no one who has been in a nightclub at least. Thus it’s not the right explanation.

Sure and all, we know this explanation is wrong anyway. When is the Telegraph going to get sued for describing Heidi Klum as a “glamour” model? Sure, maybe she did get the yayas out at some point but it wasn’t the point of her photographic career now, was it?

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10 COMMENTS

  1. If “women are 20 per cent more likely to have have blonde hair than men” then the assertion is that something about blondness is on the sex chromosome. (Male baldness is on the X, and thus it comes from mothers, though it doesn’t afflict mothers.) In this case, female selection of mates would influence the next generation. Otherwise (if hair color is not sex-specific but if the genes are spread equally through a litter of 5 males and 5 females), the researchers’ observation is about the bottle.

    • Spike , not necessarily, there are epigenetics which the same genes can be expressed differently. The dutch famine post ww2 seems to have had influence on why the grandkids of the faminees are some of the tallest in the world, though the genes are the same.

      A theory is that fair hair is some form of the natal coat, as different colouring in juveniles is very common in other primates. The researchers noted it was more common in kids of both sexes, so in a sense this is not disputed. The possible advantage of the natal coat is that it indicates non hierarchical threat, and also could be a stimulus for the care instincts of others in the group. Now females looking for a mate to help provide for her offspring aren’t likely to want someone else to mother like a baby, so their preference skews against fair hair in males, which in turn encourages the natal coat to be turned off in males.

  2. If we think that it’s men who choose who they shag than gentlemen prefer blondes is a useful explanation of what is observed. But no one actually does think that, no one who has been in a nightclub at least. Thus it’s not the right explanation.

    By this reasoning, women shouldn’t have secondary sex characteristics – big tits, feminine facial features, etc. But they do.

    Reason being, the female of the species doesn’t *just* care about getting a shag from a random male. They want a shag from a high status male, which will give her offspring a better chance at survival.