Before there were the redhead extinction stories, there were the blondes. In September 2002, numerous major newspapers and television news programs claimed that blondes would be gone within 200 years. A BBC News article at the time cited "German scientists" who said that blondes would be extinct by 2202. The article also claimed that the research stated that Finland, with its high proportion of blondes, would be the birthplace of the last blonde. The claim was based on the fact that blonde hair is a recessive gene and that more men were choosing dyed blondes -- so-called "bottle blondes" -- over true blondes. Other articles repeated the same facts about the future extinction of blondes but sourced them to the World Health Organization (WHO).
A dermatologist at the University of Edinburgh was one of many people to take issue with the claim. Jonathan Rees said that the gene for blonde hair would only "disappear" if there were some inherent evolutionary disadvantage in being blonde, which isn't so, despite the many jokes to the contrary [source: BBC News]. He added that blondes may become less common but that they will not disappear entirely [source: BBC News].
The Web site Snopes, which specializes in debunking rumors and urban legends, published an article overturning the blonde-extinction story. They cited a Washington Post piece showing the story was overreported. Snopes also found similar newspaper stories about disappearing blondes reported in 1961, 1906, 1890 and 1865. The story from 1961 claimed 50 to 140 years remained before blondes disappeared, while the 1906 story said they had 600 years left. Most of the articles cited scientific research that in one way or another claimed that men considered dark-haired women more desirable.
As the Washington Post pointed out, the World Health Organization never produced a study about the eventual extinction of blondes. But no news organization that initially wrote about the story contacted the WHO to confirm the results of the supposed study. (One television producer contacted the WHO but didn't wait for confirmation about the study before running the story.)
The Washington Post eventually traced the story to a German women's magazine named "Allegra." That magazine used as its source an apparently non-existent anthropologist working for the WHO [source: Washington Post]. In the end, most of the newspapers and TV stations that carried the story were forced to correct their reporting.
For more information about redheads and blondes -- who are far from extinct -- genetics and related topics, please check out the links below.
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More Great Links
- "Blondes 'to die out in 200 years.'" BBC News. Sept. 27, 2002. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2284783.stm
- "Extinction of Blondes Vastly Overreported." The Washington Post. Oct. 2, 2002. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A30318-2002Oct1?language=printer
- "Gingers extinct in 100 years, say scientists." The Courier Mail. News.com.au. Aug. 23, 2007. http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22289183-2,00.html
- "Red Alert." National Geographic. September 2007. Page 14.
- Flanigan, Robin L. "Will rare redheads be extinct by 2100?" Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The Seattle Times. May 9, 2005. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/living/2002266852_redhair09.html
- Kittel, Nicholas. "Redheads not disappearing: Assoc. Prof." ABC Canberra. Jan. 15, 2007. http://www.abc.net.au/canberra/stories/s1827248.htm
- Mikkelson, Barbara and Mikkelson, David P. "Blonde Extinction." Snopes. March 8, 2006. http://www.snopes.com/science/stats/blondes.asp
- Miller, Larry. "Britain's Persecuted Redheads." CBS News. July 14, 2007. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/07/13/london/main3055185.shtml
- Starr, Barry. "Ask a Geneticist." http://www.thetech.org/genetics/ask.php?id=173