He Said, She Said
Anecdotal evidence says women talk more than men. Scientific evidence says that's just idle chatter.
The source: “Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?” by Matthias R. Mehl, Simine Vazire, Nairán Ramírez-Esparza, Richard B. Slatcher, and James W. Pennebaker, in Science, July 6, 2007.
Not to mince words, but women have a reputation for being much chattier than men. In 2006, neurobiologist Louann Brizendine, in The Female Brain, attached some numbers to the stereotype, estimating that “a woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000.” Those numbers poured into the media, cited in Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and were also reported on CBS, CNN, and National Public Radio, taking on the stature of scientific fact.
But according to Matthias R. Mehl, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona, Simine Vazire, at Washington University in St. Louis, and their colleagues at the University of Texas, Austin, up to now “no study has systematically recorded the natural conversations of large groups of people for extended periods of time.” Mark Liberman, a University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor, attempted last year to fill the void, analyzing tape-recorded conversations of 153 participants he discovered in a British archive. He found that the women spoke 8,805 words per day versus the men’s 6,073, but noted that his findings were not conclusive, since his subjects were free to turn the recorders on and off.
Mehl and his colleagues tested 396 university student volunteers using an electronically activated recorder that “operates by periodically recording snippets of ambient sounds, including conversations, while participants go about their daily lives.” Data from the study reveal that women spoke on average 16,215 words per day and men 15,669, a statistically insignificant difference. But the most talkative 17 percent were equally split between men and women. And the three biggest chatterboxes, gushing more than 40,000 words in the course of a day? All men.
While Mehl and his associates admit that their study sample—all students—wasn’t typical of the whole population, they believe that sex differences among the general public would be about the same. Their conclusion: “The widespread and highly publicized stereotype about female talkativeness is unfounded.”