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Chatty Cathys or Babbling Bobs?

Myth+or+Fact%3A+Women+speak+more+than+men%3F+Original+photo+by+Jonathan+Flat.
Myth or Fact: Women speak more than men? Original photo by Jonathan Flat.

Myth or Fact: Women speak more than men? Original photo by Jonathan Flat.

Myth or Fact: Women speak more than men? Original photo by Jonathan Flat.

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Women talking more than men is a classic stereotype, but evidence for this claim is scarce. More-so, the origin of such a claim is widely unknown.

The image of a woman chatting on the phone or gossiping with friends is often reinforced by TV shows, films, and perhaps personal anecdotes. Likewise, a commonly cited statistic states that the average man speaks 7,000 words in a day while the average woman speaks 20,000. Quite obviously, a difference of 13,000 words per day would reveal a significant different in the speaking habits of men and women if the statistic is truly correct and objective.

The issue lies in the validity of the statistic. To check its credibility, we must first find where the statistic comes from. At the first online search, the 7,000 versus 20,000 claim was published in The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, founder and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic. The source cited by Brizendine was a self-help book by Allan Pease, which did not officially cite any studies. Diving even further into the statistic’s origins, a researcher from the University of Pennsylvania found that the true initial source of the statistic may be a marriage counselor’s pamphlet from 1993. This pamphlet cited no outside sources for the claim.

New studies have been conducted to challenge this un-sourced statistic. One of the first was conducted by James Pennebaker, chair of the University of Texas at Austin’s psychology department, who was leery of the claim that women spoke nearly three times more than men. In the Study, Pennebaker created a device called EAR (Electronically Activated Recorder) that would periodically record any outside noise (30 second recordings every 12.5 minutes). These devices were given to 396 university students from Texas, Arizona, and Mexico. Assuming that the subjects were awake for 17 out of 24 hours, the data collected by the devices allowed Pennebaker to calculate estimates for the average number of words spoken in a day by each gender: 15,669 for men and 16,215 for women.

Statistically speaking, there is no significant diffe rence between these two estimates. In a more recent study published in 2014, Jukka-Pekka Onnela, assistant professor of biostatistics at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and Professor David Lazer at Northeastern University concluded that the number of words spoken by either a man or woman depends largely on the setting of the conversation. To conduct the study, they used devices similar to Pennebaker’s EAR called “sociometers.” What Onnela and Lazer found was that in a setting where students were collaborating on a project, women talked significantly more than men. However, the men talked more when a group had seven or more people. Lastly, the study found no significant difference in male or female chattiness when the setting involved a group of employees on their lunch break.

From these two studies, it is clear that there is no specific evidence supporting the general myth that women talk more than men. Instead, men and women may exhibit different speaking habits in different scenarios, yet in general, the average woman is no more or less talkative than the average man.

To see how this applies to Air Academy, I conducted a small survey where I asked participants, individually, a simple question: “In general, how do you think Air Academy could be improved?” However, instead of recording their suggestions, I made a tally mark for each word the participant said. After posing the question, I did not say another word until the respondent was clearly finished speaking, continuing to appear like I was writing down their answers.

The survey consisted of seven boys and eight girls of varying grade levels (9-12). It was conducted in the library near the middle of lunch, so students would not feel the need to shorten their response in order to get to class (an issue that may arise if the survey was conducted during a passing period).

On average, the girls spoke 77.3 words per response; the boys spoke an average of 66.4 words per response.

Using a two sample t-test, we calculate a p-value of 0.526. Assuming a 5% significance level (α=0.05), we conclude that the difference between the number of words spoken by the girls and the boys is not statistically significant (at all). In fact, if the true male and female averages were perfectly equal, we could expect the observed difference (77.3 words versus 66.4 words) approximately 52.6% of the time. In other words, the survey I conducted essentially found the same results as the previously mentioned studies, albeit being much smaller and less credible.

Some other interesting observations:

– The boys boasted the most concise speaker at only 21 words; the girls had the most talkative participant, who spoke a total of 139 words.

– The girls were more offended than the boys when they realized that I was not actually writing down their suggestions. Sorry!

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Chatty Cathys or Babbling Bobs?