Do Women REALLY Talk More Than Men?

shhhhhSusan notes: this post is as timely now as when I wrote it in early 2010. I love the logic in the post below, AND I love knowing that women don’t talk any more than men at all.

Mark Barker is right (partially). Queen Rania is wrong (partially). And I should have checked the facts more carefully…

Five days ago, I made a blog post titled Use Your Voice And Talk Man Talk in which I quoted Jordan’s Queen Rania, who said in a pre-International Women’s Day video (that can be viewed a the aforementioned blog post): “Here’s a factoid for you:  women use 20,000 words a day, men use 7,000.”

As it turns out, it seems that Queen Rania’s “factoid” is more fiction than fact…

Number Crunching

In a comment on my post, AWR member Mark Barker proposed that 20,000 words would translate into one word per second for six hours. The calculation is correct. But that seems like awful lot of talking. Or is it?

words_rotated.jpgMark’s comment caused me to reflect.

I know from my work as a public speaking coach that people talk at average rate of about 125 words per minute, or about two words per second; some of us speak more quickly, some more slowly.

If we assume an average rate of speech of 125 words per minute, it would take 160 minutes in total (2.6 hours) to speak 20,000 words.

Of course, few women do all their talking in one block. We talk, we listen, we are silent. Conversation is interspersed throughout the day at work, at home, with friends, family, etc.

Let’s further assume that the average woman is awake, on average, 16 hours in a 24-hour day.

If that’s the case, an average woman, speaking 20,000 words in an average day at average rate would talk about 10 minutes per hour in a 16 hour day and actually be silent for 50 minutes each hour, or 13.4 hours in a 24-hour period (excluding the time she sleeps, during which, I’m guessing, she normally doesn’t talk. Unless of course she’s a sleep talker lol).

shhhhh.jpgOn the other hand, if it’s true that men speak only 7,000 words in a day, that would mean that the average man, speaking at an average rate, in an average 16-hour day would talk for only 56 minutes in the entire day, or 3.5 minutes each hour.

Shhhhhhhhhh. That’s more than 15 hours of silence daily, not including eight hours sleep time. Well, I know guys who are quiet. But they’re usually not THAT quiet.

All of this number crunching further piqued my curiosity. Naturally, I turned to Google to see what I could find on the subject.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon what I can only describe as the most comprehensive single blog post that I have yet seen on any issue I’ve researched to date.

The eight-page, 3,341-word piece, originally posted in August 2006, is the work of linguistics professor Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The post, which includes multiple useful links and updates, begins thus:

This morning, I spent a fruitless hour trying to track down the source of Louann Brizendine’s assertion that “A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000.”

I found many similar assertions, with estimates of the male lexical allowance varying from 2,000 to 25,000, while assertions about the female daily word budget ranged from 7,000 to 50,000. But nowhere could I find any evidence that anyone has ever supported these assertions by actually counting words or measuring talking times.

My current best guess is that a marriage counselor invented this particular meme about 15 years ago, as a sort of parable for couples with certain communication problems, and others have picked it up and spread it, while modulating the numbers to suit their tastes.

Liberman cites and dismisses numerous so-called sources of this “women talk more than men urban myth” as unreliable, including Allan and Barbara Pease, to whom Mark referred in his comment on my post.

Toward the end of his post, Liberman quotes “Understanding Gender Differences in Amount of Talk: A Critical Review of Research,” by Deborah James and Janice Drakich, who say:

It is shown that the widely held belief that women talk more than men is unsupported in the literature. Of the studies reviewed that examined mixed-sex interaction, the majority found either that men talked more than women, or that there was no difference between men and women in amount of talk.

An article in Science, written after Liberman’s original post (and for which he is listed as a reference), adds further evidence to debunk the myth.

No More, No Less

Researchers and authors Matthias R. Mehl, Simine Vazire, Nairán Ramírez-Esparza, Richard B. Slatcher, and James W. Pennebaker, analyzed data from 396 participants (210 women and 186 men) that were conducted between 1998 and 2004. Participants wore voice recorders over a period of several days and their word use was extrapolated using a system explained in the article (I won’t bore you with the details, which you may read at your leisure here).

The bottom line according to Mehl et al?

…the data fail to reveal a reliable sex difference in daily word use. Women and men both use on average about 16,000 words per day, with very large individual differences around this mean…

…We therefore conclude, on the basis of available empirical evidence, that the widespread and highly publicized stereotype about female talkativeness is unfounded.

In other words, women don’t talk any more than men do – it’s an urban legend.

Men and women tend to talk about the same amount of time, with wide variations between individuals – some men talk a lot, some don’t; some women talk a lot, some don’t. Makes sense to me.

Thanks Mark, for making the comment and doing the calculation that caused me to reflect.

Your majesty Queen Rania, your numbers may have been wrong, but your point is absolutely correct.

Educating women and girls will make this planet a better place to be. Please continue campaigning to encourage women to make their voices heard, and reshoot your video to dispel yet another widely held misperception about women.

When you talk, people listen. No matter how many or how few words you use.