Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Rise of the Blonde Playmate

Gene Expression has a post on changing preferences for hair color over time. The hair color of Playboy playmates was charted from 1954 to 2007, on the assumption that this monthly series reflects male sexual tastes. It turns out that the percentage of blonde playmates has risen over the years: from a low of about 35% in the mid-1960s to a high of 60% around the year 2000. A similar study was done fifteen years ago, with similar results (Rich & Cash, 1993).

These proportions are well above the actual proportion of blonds among white Americans. When Rich and Cash (1993) studied a sample of undergraduates, the proportions were 68.1% brunette, 26.8% blond, and 5.1% red. This breakdown parallels those put forward in two British studies: 68% brunette, 25% blond, 1% red, and 6% black (Takeda et al., 2006); and 74% brunette; 18% blond, and 8% red (Mather et al., unpublished). Jason Malloy says a similar breakdown appears in Beddoe (1885).

Thus, blond hair preference does not reflect the actual distribution of hair color. In fact, in light of current demographic trends, the scarcer blondes become, the more they seem to be preferred.

This frequency dependence has been shown in humans. Thelen (1983) presented male participants with slides showing attractive brunettes and blondes and asked them to choose, for each series, the woman they would most like to marry. One series had equal numbers of brunettes and blondes, a second 1 brunette for every 5 blondes, and a third 1 brunette for every 11 blondes. Result: the rarer the same brunette was in a series, the likelier the men would choose her.

Just as blondes are more strongly preferred as they become scarcer, they seem to be less popular when more abundant. Havelock Ellis (1928, pp. 182-183) noted a weaker preference for blonde women in England than in France, which he ascribed to the higher prevalence of blondness among the English.

Indeed, if this preference were not frequency-dependent, sexual selection should have steadily increased the incidence of blond hair, to the point of eliminating all other colors. Yet blonds do not form the majority of any human population. Even Swedes are no more than 40% blond, and this is using a definition that already includes a variety of shades (platinum blond, ash blond, sunny blond, sandy blond, golden blond, strawberry blond, zebra blond, dirty blond, brownish blond, see Wikipedia article).

In addition to America’s changing demographics, the rise of the blonde playmate may also reflect the spread of Playboy magazine into American Catholic communities where it was initially excluded and where blond hair is less common (many of these communities being of southern European origin). In the wake of Vatican II (1962-1965), Catholic Americans have adopted increasingly secular attitudes towards sex, and consumption of soft porn has become less stigmatized, if not tolerated.


Beddoe, J. (1885). The Races of Britain: A Contribution to the Anthropology of Western Europe, Arrowsmith, Bristol & Trübnermm, London.

Ellis, H. (1928). Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol. IV, "Sexual Selection in Man." Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.

Mather, F., Manning, J.T., & Bundred, P.E. (unpublished). 2nd to 4th digit ratio, hair and eye colour in Caucasians: Evidence for blond hair as a correlate of high prenatal oestrogen.

Rich, M.K., & Cash, T.F. (1993). The American image of beauty: Media representations of hair color for four decades. Sex Roles, 29, 113-124.

Takeda, M.B., Helms, M.M., & Romanova, N. (2006). Hair color stereotyping and CEO selection in the United Kingdom. Journal of human behavior in the social environment, 13, 85-99

Thelen, T.H. (1983). Minority type human mate preference. Social Biology, 30, 162-180.


Anonymous said...

Red ought to be becoming more popular than any other hair colour, going by its infrequency. Could redhead associations with ruddyness or actual ruddy skin tones be responsible for its popularity stagnating?

Playboy had little competition in its early years and the success of Hefners other ventures has probably insulated his selection of playmates from commercial pressure. Playboy is pretty tame by today standards, would the changing demographics of its 'readership' not confound any study. The most popular female porn 'stars' would be a better reflection of male sexual tastes over time.

Maybe some populations did become all blond under strict sexual selection of females. Apart fron those special conditions lets say nonblondes are considered second best, they would still be reproducing with the men who couldn't get their prefered blonde mate. I don't understand how blondes would have edged out the other colours in balanced sexual selection, could you spell this out please?

Anonymous said...

Unless I have misunderstood or the information is in the book of course.

Anonymous said...

If selection for blondism were frequency-dependent, blond hair would never eliminate other color variants. It would eventually level off and form a balanced polymorphism with other hair colors.

If the selection were frequency-independent, i.e., constant, the incidence of blond hair should steadily rise until it reached fixation. This would happen even if one assumes a very slight selective advantage.

"lets say nonblondes are considered second best, they would still be reproducing with the men who couldn't get their preferred blonde mate."

You're assuming there are always enought men to go around. This would be true in a highly polygynous population. In a largely monogamous population with a high male mortality rate, there usually aren't enough men to go around. There's also the question of male quality, i.e., there may be enough men, but they may be ineffective providers.

The GNXP posts don't provide data on redhead playmates. If memory serves me right, there have been more than just a few ...

Anonymous said...

Well explicated, thanks.
I will try to bear in mind that the current conditions are "special", not everything heretofor.

Anonymous said...

Mr Frost,
How do you interpret this event and do you know more about it:


Could that be an exemple of sexual selection ?


Anonymous said...

Even among "Playboy bunnies with bleached blond hair", finding an example of frequency-dependent natural blonde hair would be a challenge - maybe 10,000 years ago when it may have been vastly more common.

Even in Sweden do natural blondes of any shade dye their hair darker and keep it that way, has this phenomenon ever attained the status of a trend anywhere, ever. If so I am yet to hear of it.

Natural blonde hair would seem to be a reliable signal for something objective, like the Robin with the reddest breast which really is the best in every respect acording to Konrad Lorenz in The Waning Of Humaneness.

References for this post show Dr. Frost is familiar with this school of thought of course.

Anonymous said...


The linked article describes a mass grave in Germany (dated to 5,000 BC) of 34 individuals who had apparently been bound and killed. According to genetic analysis, none of the skeletons were native females, i.e., from the same tribe as the males. But there were ‘immigrant’ females from other tribes.

The article then surmises that the native-born females had been spared because “local women [were] regarded as somehow special and were therefore kept alive.” I think it’s more parsimonious to see this as evidence of patrilocality, i.e., these tribes were exchanging women for purposes of marriage as a way to avoid inbreeding and to cement alliances.


You raise an interesting point. Diversity in hair color is now being artificially generated because many women are dyeing their hair blond or even totally new shades (green, blue, purple). I don’t know whether any blonde women dye their hair a darker shade. I think such a practice would occur if a majority of the women were blonde, but this is not the case anywhere, not even in Sweden.

Anonymous said...

C.H. Wadingtons's last book pointed out dificulties breeding dairy cattle inasmuch as the bloodlines of champion cows seemed to produce inferior bulls.
Steve Sailer had a post a while back on the human implications of the Rum red deer research project which found the sucessful stags' female progeny were notable breeding failures.

With sexual selection for blonde women comes blond men - perhaps the blond men are at a slight disadvantage in competion for the choicest female blondes in rare times of plenty.
Much more commonly, the blond men could suffer slightly higher rates of mortality in harsh conditions or be poor providers.

Lets say the blondest women tend to be swiped by relatively dark men for whatever reason, could this put a ceiling on the prevalence of blondes?

Anonymous said...

Mr Frost,

About the mass grave in germany, i'm not completely convinced that patrilocality is a parcimonious answer in this particular case, because it doesn't explain the mass killings.

I have also posted a question in one of your older blogs. I can repost is here as well : are you aware of an old theory that says that humans are attracted to neotenic traits. If that is true, everything that has been said in term of skin and eyes attractiveness could be reformulated in term of neotenic traits attractiveness. I also speculated that this trend could possibly be an old evolutionary trend in the homo genus.
Do you have an opinion on this ?

thanks, RG.

Interesting blog, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Frost's theory, insofar as I understand it, is that lightening of the skin in women has functions other than attractiveness; inhibiting agression mainly.

I learned a lot by going to the site femininebeauty and searching for neoteny. It explains the attractiveness issue in a very detailed but accessible way. Skin and hair colour are not dealt with though and Dr. Frost does not endorse the site in any way of course.

Anonymous said...


The mass killings and patrilocality are independent phenomona. There's no need to see a link between the two.

Yes, I'm aware of the theory that links neotenous traits to attractiveness. I was first introduced to it by reading Konrad Lorenz's work, but I've seen it elsewhere. Basically, neotenous traits tend to inhibit aggression in adults and induce provioning behavior. This same situation occurs with females that require substantial food provisioning from the male. There has therefore been selection to 'borrow' infant traits by conserving them in adult females.

In humans, we see this in the lighter complexion, smoother skin, higher vocal pitch, and pedomorphic facial morphology of women.

Anonymous said...

I was out of my depth (as well as out of line)with my previous post. I thought neoteny was an evolutionary theory concerning the features of ancestral embryos appearing in the adults of advanced descendants.
So pedomorphic features are those that encourage provisioning behaviour as opposed to sexual attraction - good.

Anonymous said...

Buy Playboy in the local community store, thats the last place anyone would I should think. Catholic teaching has less influence now because the actual comunities largely ceased to exist due to urban renewal and integration efforts (whether or not it was intended)as documented in Slaughter of Cities.

Playboy was run on the profits of its London casino, the most profitable in the world, from 1965-80(Playboy Club Wikipedia)This is when Hefner had most say and leeway to apply his personal taste in hair colour, maybe he got a bit bored with blondes or never was that into them. This period of insulation from comercial pressure fits well with the nadir of blonde playmates.
Hispanic demographic trends are a better bet for driving up the popularity of blonde models.

Sunday Times yesterday- Playboy is trying to get a licence for a London Casino again.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Frost,

I saw your "blonde map" and noticed that you left out the significant blonde population of northern Germany. It really makes the map look very sketchy to leave that information out. Even if one visits Scandinavia and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, one can see the discrepancy of your map.