Humans are socially complex, and that includes men. Although it’s not based on hard scientific studies, and there is a lot of variation among men, we can generally put guys into three categories: alpha male, beta male, and jerks.
Remember, these aren’t necessarily hard scientific categories, because humans are much more complicated than other animals, who generally are grouped into categories based on the alpha-beta dichotomy. So, before you comment about how humans aren’t animals, etc., keep in mind I agree it is difficult to categorize humans in this way (although, yes, humans are animals).
Nonetheless, I do believe these classifications fit with evolutionary biology and anecdotal evidence. Some people blend the types or possess more than one in different situations. With that said, here are the three categories that can be helpful in assessing a guy’s social and career success levels. And they’re at least helpful for guys wanting to make personal change.
Jerk? Alpha? Beta? Omega?! Now is a good time to take our entertaining and totally and utterly non-scientific “What Type of Male Are You” Quiz!
So, this article is going to look at the whole alpha vs. beta male debate and toss in a third category: the jerk. This is because I believe that a true alpha male doesn’t embody asshole qualities.
The Beta Male
The first type of guy is the beta male (Click here for more information). Although the stereotypes of beta males in popular culture may not be totally accurate, they generally hold. The overarching trait of the beta male is passivity or agreeableness. He isn’t forceful, assertive, or a leader. He prefers to follow others, or at least ends up that way. He is the “nice guy” who also finds himself dateless a lot.
At their best, beta males are friendly guys who are easy to get along with. They can often be good fathers, ideal sons, and helpful friends. Since the beta is a “nice guy,” we can apply the common wisdom about “nice guys” to him: he finishes last.
At their worst, beta males can be unmotivated, lacking in passion, needy, and whiny. However, betas aren’t passive robots. Some can be passive-aggressive or even outright aggressive if pushed. They usually lash out at family and friends, not the authority figures they resent.
Beta males are often unpopular with women because they’re bland and lack an edge (it’s the “nice guy” thing). They don’t fit the evolutionary desired leadership traits of provider and protector, so they typically get friend zoned. While it’s true beta males can get girlfriends, they often struggle when they’re younger because the younger women like edgier guys.
Beta males are usually the guys in a social group who blend in. Sometimes their contributions socially are so minor that other people may barely know they are even around. The difference between alpha and beta males in this situation is attention and visibility: betas are usually in the background while the alpha gets credit
The second type of guy is the jerk. These guys can be aggressive, confrontational, and have serious anger problems. They may have some good social skills at times (like charm), but can easily digress into inappropriate behavior and be overly and inappropriately sexual. They are often much more feared than loved. When it comes down to it, jerks are very self-centered, typically insecure (bravado more than confidence) and lack empathy.
Sometimes people think jerks are alpha males. They are not. As I discuss below, a true human alpha male is much different than a dominant bully.
In fact, this is why jerks operate outside the alpha vs. beta discussion. While they can lead, they have insecurities and problems like beta males. Their aggression and need for validation aren’t the traits of true leaders. Jerks are, from my experience, just weak individuals with low self-esteem trying to make up for that by acting aggressive and overcompensating.
At their best, jerks can be charming. They also have a veneer of confidence and power. This is why other men sometimes like them and women typically find them attractive, at least over a boring beta male. However, they rarely maintain the facade of confidence and poise for long. That leads to their worst side: violence (physical and emotional), control, and intimidation.
Jerks can be thought of leaders, but in a negative sense. They often get what they want through verbally and physically abusive tactics. People will do their bidding, but out of resentment or fear.
This is why some of the worst leaders throughout history fit this category, with dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot fitting the bill. Many of your bosses, managers, CEOs, and others in leadership like to think they’re alpha males when in reality they are just jerks.
The Alpha Male
The third type of guy, the one we believe guys should strive to become, is the alpha male (as truly defined, not the jerk). An alpha is the leader of others, but in a way that inspires and makes others. He’s confident, funny, and relaxed under pressure. Women love him because of his natural charm and confidence. He is the fun, yet decisive boss at work, and guys want to be his friend (and also want to be him, because the social and monetary benefits of being him are significant). He is empathetic and caring, but also has appropriate boundaries, because he understands human nature.
The alpha male, as we define it, is the middle ground between the jerk and the beta male. He has the best of both their traits. It’s why the alpha male tends to be admired in most societies. Whatever you think of their views, Eisenhower, Reagan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Clinton, Buddha, Socrates, and many other male leaders of many philosophies were and are alpha males. They were and are strong, confident, and inspirational, but not aggressive and belligerent. They have led by making life better for other people.
Here is a good video on alpha males in humans:
We now offer a page entitled how to be an alpha male with general tips, but all our articles actually are focused on that in some way.
While there are other types of guys (see our omega male article), these are the three primary categories of men you will encounter.