Friday, September 26, 2014

Do women really talk much more than men? No!

In her Body Language Expert Blog on September 22, 2014 Patti Wood posted on A Strange But True Fact About Women and Men and Gender Differences in Communication the Startling Statistic that allegedly:

“On an average, women say over 7,000 words per day. Men say only around 2,000.”

Really? Are you sure?

I recalled seeing some higher numbers, and found that back in 2004 Allan Pease said in a CNN interview that:

“....women can speak 20,000 to 24,000 words a day versus a man's top end of 7,000 to 10,000.”

I did some searching and found a 2010 article at ABC Science by Karl S. Kruszelnicki titled ‘Talkative’ women is gender gibberish that expressed doubts about both these claims.

Karl mentioned Mark Liberman’s Language Log, which has followed this topic for many years with posts like Sex-Linked Lexical Budgets and An invented statistic returns.
Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman’s 2009 book, Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language has a concise discussion on page 150:

“Let’s talk numbers. Women use anywhere from twice to three times as many words a day as men, according to three bestselling authors. Dr. Scott Haltzmann, a psychiatrist and marriage counselor, puts the figure at 7,000 words for her versus 2,000 for him. The evangelist and broadcaster James Dobson prefers 50,000 versus 25,000. And Dr. Louann Brizendine, a neuoropsychiatrist, has given us 20,000 versus 7,000. But you’ll find all kinds of numbers from all kinds of authors: 25,000 versus 12,000, 5,000 versus 2,500, and so on.

What you won’t find, however, is a single scientific study showing that women talk much more than men. In fact, the best evidence suggests that men are at least as chatty as women, and perhaps a little chattier. Two social psychologists, Campbell Leaper and Melanie Ayres, examined the scientific evidence - sixty-three studies of men, women, and talkativeness - in a paper published in 2007. Their conclusion: Men talk somewhat more than women, but the difference isn’t much. In another study published the same year, a team of psychologists led by Matthias R. Mehl attached voice-activated digital recorders to 396 people and actually counted the words they spoke. The results: Both men and women used an average of about 16,000 words a day.” 

Their first reference is to Campbell Leaper and Melanie M. Ayres, “A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Variations in Adults’ Language Use: Talkativeness, Affiliative Speech, and Assertive Speech,” Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 11, No. 4 (November 2007), pages 328 to 363. You can read the abstract here

Their second reference is to Matthias R. Mehl et al, “Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?”, Science, Vol. 317 ,(July 6, 2007), page 82. You can read the full text here. They studied six samples of university students, five in the U.S., and one in Mexico. Women spoke a mean of 16,215 words per day (with a standard deviation of 7301) and men a mean of 15,669 words per day (with a standard deviation of 8633). There was not a significant difference between women and men.  

I’ve put both silly estimates and the data on a bar chart (click on it to embiggen):

The laughing couple came from an old poster here.

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