Friday, July 06, 2007

Are Men as Talkative as Women?

Yes, according to a USA Today article on a study that says that both sexes speak about 16,000 words a day:

Popular wisdom would have it that women talk more than men-- 20,000 words a day, while men average just 7,000.

Research out today contradicts that stereotype. Both sexes say about 16,000 words a day, a study in Science magazine says.

"It's been a common belief, but it just didn't fit," says co-author James Pennebaker, psychology department chairman at the University of Texas-Austin.

He and colleagues analyzed conversations recorded from 1998 to 2004 of 396 students in the USA and Mexico, 210 women and 186 men, ages 18-29. The study examined word count, not vocabulary or word use. Pennebaker says two-thirds of participants spoke 11,000 to 25,000 words a day; the average for both sexes was about 16,000.

The finding may seem surprising in a culture in which women are often stereotyped as talkative and men as uncommunicative.

Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine cited the 20,000-vs.-7,000 comparison in her 2006 book The Female Brain as evidence for gender brain differences. After the book came out in August, the statistic was widely quoted.

A linguistics professor says that previous studies have focused on phone conversations and interview transcripts, rather than daily life. If you just look around at the sheer number of women on cell phones chatting with friends, it is no wonder it seems women are the chattier sex. And interviewing some guys is like pulling teeth to get them talking. Phones and interviews may not be a good fit to get men talking. It's like saying that women don't talk as much at sports events and beer drinking contests. So next time you think that men don't communicate and thrive on being the strong silent type, just remember that perhaps the context is the problem, not the fact that they are uncommunicative.


Blogger Peregrine John said...

Get me started on the wrong (or right?) subjects, and you'll wish I was less communicative!

Tea, for example.

4:38 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger Don Surber said...

Yak yak yak yak yak :)

5:16 PM, July 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that the stereotype isn't necessarily that women talk more, but instead that they gossip more.

I think you are on the money when you suggest that the problem is context.

On that note, if you want to see me talking, just ask me how the tennis at Wimbledon was today and I'll go into such depth about it that you'll either be bored to tears or enthusiastic about the future matches. Depending on if you like tennis or not.

6:01 PM, July 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Women talk more.

6:24 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger Ben said...

Here's an interesting perspective from the Language Log.

I think what's interesting is that people really don't want to let this stuff go. Even though it's a stupid, shallow stereotype and doesn't really fit anyone's agenda, they cling to it and promote a false debate.

6:37 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger GeorgeH said...

The article noted that men talked about things (cars, guns, computers, lawnmowers).
Women confuse men because they just talk. You must be talking about real stuff sometime, so all the "just talk" is surplus, so you must talk more than we do.

8:54 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger Art Deco said...

If the comparative propensity to chatter is influenced by context, do you think it might be influenced also by the subgroup of the population studied? How representative are college students?

10:25 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger DWPittelli said...

Perhaps a higher percentage of men are shy, as one might note in interviews, or allow their wives to do most of their talking for them, in social situations. It certainly seems many times more common, when meeting a couple, for the husband to be virtually silent, while the wife does 90% of the talking, than vice-versa.

Or perhaps women are better at finding things to talk about, when they don't yet know what they have in common, while men must find a hobby or sport in common to discuss.

Personally, I think watching pro sports is an egregious waste of time, but my father did point out one utility: it gives him something to discuss with male in-laws and distant relatives with whom he would otherwise have nothing to discuss. (The faux controversy of sports rivalries is also much safer than bringing up George Bush or religion.)

7:49 AM, July 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

scooby - doo....

Using your preferred numbers

A man averages 15,669 WPD

A woman averages 16,125 WPD

The difference is 166,440 WPY

So after a man is done talking for a calendar year, it takes a woman 10.622247 days or 254.93392 hours before she reaches the same point.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

However, I say again,


Women talk more.

8:18 AM, July 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't discount the age group involved in the study. These are the product of an education and PC culture which has conditioned "men" to talk about their feelings and work hard to be something approaching the radical feminist ideal of the modern male. Pah.

8:26 AM, July 07, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

^ I agree - I'm willing to bet if the study were performed with men and women 40 and over, the results would be closer to the 7000/20000 range.

I'm in college and I'm pretty sure if it wasn't for me being required to talk in class, I'd be closer to the 7000 than the 16000.

11:19 AM, July 07, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...


I see this in my office every day. The men and women may say the same amount of words, by count, but the men cover many more issues and make more decisions in a given period of time.

2:31 PM, July 07, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Huh! I for one have always been the strong, silent type.

Now I'll grant that my family, friends, ex-girlfriends, casual acquaintances, random acquaintances, third-shift convenience store clerks, emergency hot-line operators & random people who've suffered through my wildly rambling 2000 word blog responses might disagree with this self-evaluation. But they're wrong.

What, me blab around incoherently for interminable periods & drive everyone around me insane in the process?


3:00 PM, July 07, 2007  
Blogger Danny said...

I just got back from a trip with 3 other male friends, fly-fishing on the Au Sable river. We talked a lot, about politics, guns, fishing ( fly-fishing and other styles), gourmet cooking, single malt whiskys,and discussed the merits and demerits of various tools, guns, and especially hand-made acoustic guitars.
Each of us probably exceed the 16,000 wpd limit every day, but, we talked about things and topics that are important and relevant to our lives, and so, we talked freely.
Context is so important. Had we been with a couple of the wives, 2 of who are faculty members and threfore extremely politically correct, it is very probable, that none of us would have talked too much at all, and the would have dominated the conversation talking about stuff we have no interest in, or which we oppose on ideological grounds.

4:42 PM, July 07, 2007  
Blogger RebeccaH said...

What they failed to take into account is that men only get talky when they're talking to each other. Women will talk to anybody.

9:05 PM, July 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They really need to do a demographically-balanced study before extrapolating the results to the rest of the population.

Limiting your research to college students only tells you about college students.

It is an interesting study as far as it goes, but it just doesn't go very far.

11:39 PM, July 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank God we have "studies" to tell us these things. I was having trouble sleeping at night worrying about whether men or women talk more.

Based on casual observation in and around the George Washington University campus, I'd say college men talk as much as if not more than college women. It's hard to tell, though. They all seem to be on their cellphones pretty much 24/7.

10:13 AM, July 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About women talking more than men....

Maybe it's really more girls / boys than men / women.

If a word were worth a penny, and every word invested, it would mean a lot - taking into consideration the magic of compound interest over the years.

Otherwise, it doesn't amount to much bugs, like you say. Not quite sure why I felt like making a point about it, with anyone's figures. Even though, using anyone's figures, women do talk more than men.

When my children were much younger, I eventually put a separate telephone line in my daughter's shared bedroom, because they were always on the phone, gabbing away to other girls, mainly about boys. It did prevent telemarketers from getting through, though. My son was usually outside playing, and never did use the phone much. I eventually got the girls a 900 Megahertz phone so they could talk while on the swing set or by the pool. Nothing stopped the all important latest updates.

I thought it was cute for the most part. However, if I overheard something gossipy or otherwise unkind, a talking to was brought forth and a telephone time out was implemented.

11:40 AM, July 08, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

danny: Yes and well said!

Leave men alone to talk and men will talk. Add women who talk men talk or don't say much and the men still talk a lot. Add women who want to share the conversation and the men will talk a little less. Add women who demand men talk in the same way as women and the men shut up.

rebecca: See what I said to danny.

All: When I read about "The Female Brain" and the 20,000/7,000 split all my 'this is wrong' alarms went off. Her split just didn't match day to day reality. When theory runs into reality, it is never reality that is wrong.

The new study matches what I would expect to see. It matches the reality I see around me.

4:10 AM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger Peregrine John said...

jw: In theory, there's no difference between theory and reality. In reality, however...

graham: You made me think of the Greek writer Tacitus, who, in spite of his name, put out a fair boatload of words. Perhaps he was only tacit verbally?

11:01 AM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger ricpic said...

One more proof that science is bunk!

11:06 AM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

I am a man and I speak far less than most people. In my opinion, women talk more than men. I have a female co-worker who thinks men talk more than women.

12:00 PM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

I always thought the 20,000 vs. 7,000 words figure referred to range of vocabulary rather than actual words spoken. Women probably read more and therefore would be exposed to a wider variety of words. However, I think the commenters above are onto something when they say men talk about more topics, so perhaps it's men who have a larger vocabulary. If there is even any difference at all.

12:11 PM, July 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Gender brain differences?" Is Dr. Benzedrine still employed after using those words in the same sentence?

2:51 PM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Many people make a distinction between "hearing" and "listening" (particularly when they think their arguments should be more compelling than they actually are.)

I'd be curious to see a similar distinction made with speech (the act of emitting sound versus the act of conveying useful meaning) and then the analysis done again. Unfortunately, the determination of what is "useful speech" varies a wee bit.

7:16 PM, July 09, 2007  
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