While a lot of what we say on this blog is somewhat counter-intuitive (e.g. teasing women to get them to like you), rarely do we see the level of anger and denial from readers when discussing the existence of human alpha, beta, and omega males.
Typically, a lot of the fury about the very existence of these categories comes from guys who fall into the beta or omega side of the hierarchy. So, I thought it would be helpful to write an article addressing the important question: do alpha and beta males (and omegas) exist, at least among humans?
Do Alpha and Beta Males Exist?
In many animal species, the answer to this question is a definite “yes.” However, the interaction between alpha and beta males, as well as their role within the animal community, differs by species.
In general, however, the alpha males are the “leaders” among the animals. They get first access to resources, including food and sexual mates. In fact, in some species, the alpha males are the only males that get to mate with any certainty (unless a few beta males get sex by sneaking it – called “kleptogamy”).
Beta males are usually lesser males in terms of both access to food and reproduction. They receive “leftovers” in both areas and sometimes none at all.
In most cases, achieving alpha status requires physical confrontation, with the winner taking his place at the top of the pecking order, after dethroning another alpha.
Are There Human Alphas and Betas?
This is where the question gets a little more hairy. Humans are animals as any third grader can likely tell you. However, having been taught to think everyone is equal and special, many people think that we have evolved beyond certain programmed behaviors. Certainly, many people don’t think human men can be considered alpha or beta in the true sense.
However, to think that humans completely lost this distinction in our communities is quite a stretch, even if we are more evolved and civilized.
Human Alpha Males
Society clearly has guys who are dominant in its ranks, guys who get more than their fair share of resources, including money and sex.
These would be the premier athletes, musicians, CEO’s, and politicians. They are the leaders of society, whether intentional or de facto. These human alpha males receive the same deference, status, and nearly unlimited reproductive options (e.g. JFK and Wilt Chamberlain) as their animal alpha counterparts.
We can even see this on a more localized level. Look at the respect, deference, and sexual attention that bosses, teachers, and other males in positions of power receive from beta males and females. The stereotype of the student-teacher crush or boss-secretary affair didn’t come from thin air.
These leaders thrive and lead in a more nuanced and social way. Being an alpha isn’t about ruling by brute force or fighting, although this does happen (look at the huge numbers of wars fought under the leadership of dictators). It is usually more about being socially dominant through intelligence, charm, and manipulation, combined with some physical dominance. Nonetheless, dominance is dominance.
Here’s a great National Geographic episode of “Going Ape” about human alpha males.
Human Beta Males
Societies also have guys who are submissive followers. They defer to more powerful men, whether directly or passively. They might have good traits, but they’re not taking the world by storm. They could work decent jobs, but they lack the status, deference, and access to sex that other more dominant guys have.
This typical “nice guy” has a few things going for him, but he would never be trusted to lead and protect the species in a time of danger. He might be smart enough, but he doesn’t project that he’s up for the difficulty of the job.
Human beta males often get less premier jobs at work, have less status and money, and experience difficulty attracting women. Research of human sexual partner count bears this out: a small percentage of men get most of the sex, while some guys even get none.
So, while we might not have clear cut alpha/beta (and even omega) distinctions like animals, the general traits of alphas and betas still apply to human males. Whether a guy likes the terms and all of the preconceptions associated with them is irrelevant.
Thus, do alpha and beta males exist in humans? The answer certainly looks like a “yes” although humans are obviously a bit more difficult to pin down and label. But, the existence of nuance doesn’t mean we can’t apply any of these labels at all.