Study: Muscle men more politically conservative

Researchers in Denmark report a relationship between bicep size and support for progressive economic policies

By Katie McDonough
Published May 16, 2013 3:32PM (EDT)
Capitalists  (Hulu)
Capitalists (Hulu)

Researchers from Denmark's Aarhus University found that the more upper body strength a wealthy man has, the more likely he is to support conservative, self-interested economic and social policies. Conversely, similarly wealthy but not-similarly-stacked men were more likely to support policies in favor of wealth redistribution, such as higher taxes on the very rich. (Related: Does anyone know how much Warren Buffet is benching these days?)

The scientists say they based their hypothesis on evolutionary theory, as Science 2.0 reports:

In the days of our early ancestors, [Aarhus researchers] say, decisions about the distribution of resources weren't made in courthouses or legislative offices, but through shows of strength. With this in mind, the scholars hypothesized that upper-body strength -- a proxy for the ability to physically defend or acquire resources -- would predict men's opinions about economic redistribution.

So they surveyed hundred of people in America, Denmark and Argentina about bicep size, socioeconomic status, and support for economic redistribution. Their belief was that since bicep size as a proxy for upper body strength is irrelevant to payoffs from economic policies in modern mass democracies -- might no longer makes right -- anyone who wants to be strong is likely to have political decision making shaped by an evolved psychology designed for small-scale groups.

In line with their hypotheses, the data revealed that wealthy men with big biceps were less likely to support redistribution, while less wealthy men of the same strength were more likely to support it. In other words, richer men with big biceps supported lower taxes while poorer men with big biceps wanted higher taxes -- on the rich. But men with tiny biceps were less adamant on both sides, they weren't as fanatical about socialism or capitalism.

Psychologist and lead author of the study Michael Bang Petersen also found that men of average wealth with tiny puny baby muscles broke with the pattern, tending to be less supportive of progressive economic policies and social welfare programs than their wealthier skinny brethren.

Researchers found no link between women's upper body strength and their views on economic redistribution and taxes on the wealthy.

So, members of the American Enterprise Institute, per science:

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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