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You may think people grow beards because of their fashionability or warmth, but author and professor Stephen Mihm says there might be another reason. In a New York Times piece he makes the case that in Western countries, trends in beard popularity can be explained by economics by looking at trends in capitalism.
Throughout the 20th century many anti-capitalist movements adopted large, bushy, Karl Marx-like beards as signs of protest. Whenever these movements gained steam you saw a marked decrease in beard acceptance amongst wealthy and powerful American business leaders. But once these movements died down, CEOs and business tycoons often re-adopted beards to show their strength and rugged individuality.
Today we’re seeing a resurgence of beards acceptance, brought on by the young and wealthy leaders of Silicon Valley such as Elon Musk, Jack Dempsey, and originally Steve Jobs.
But researchers argue we might be reaching something called “peak beard,” which occurs when beards become too popular and clean shaven men begin to become more attractive by comparison.