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Women are generally assumed to be more talkative than men. Data were analyzed from 396 participants who wore a voice recorder that sampled ambient sounds for several days. Participants' daily word use was extrapolated from the number of recorded words. Women and men both spoke about 16,000 words per day.
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EMBARGOED UNTIL 2PM U.S. EASTERN TIME ON THE THURSDAY BEFORE THIS DATE:
Are Women Really More Talkative
Than Men?
Matthias R. Mehl,
1
* Simine Vazire,
2
Nairán Ramírez-Esparza,
3
Richard B. Slatcher,
3
James W. Pennebaker
3
S
ex differences in conversational behavior
have long been a topic of public and
scientific interest (1, 2). The stereotype of
female talkativeness is deeply engrained in
Western folklore and often considered a scien-
tific fact. In the first printing of her book,
neuropsychiatrist Brizendine reported, Awom-
an uses about 20,000 words per day while a
man uses about 7,000 (3). These numbers have
since circulated throughout television, radio, and
print media (e.g., CBS, CNN, National Public
Radio, Newsweek,theNew York Times,andthe
Washington Post). Indeed, the 20,000-versus-
7000 word estimates appear to have achieved
the status of a cultural myth in that comparable
differences have been cited in the media for the
past 15 years (4).
In reality, no study has systematically recorded
the natural conversations of large groups of
people for extended periods of time. Consequent-
ly, there have not been the necessary data for
reliably estimating differences in daily word
usage among women and men (5). Extrapolating
from a reanalysis of tape-recorded daily con-
versations from 153 participants from the British
National Corpus (6), Liberman recently esti-
mated that women speak 8805 words and men
6073 words per day . However, he acknowledged
that these estimates may be problematic because
no information was available regarding when
participants decided to turn off their manual tape
recorders (4).
Over the past 8 years, we have developed a
method for recording natural language using the
electronically activated recorder (EAR) (7). The
EAR is a digital voice recorder that unob-
trusively tracks peoples real-world moment-to-
moment interactions. It operates by periodically
recording snippets of ambient sounds, including
conversations, while participants go about their
daily lives. Because of the covert digital record-
ing, it is impossible for participants to control or
even to sense when the EAR is on or off. For
the purpose of this study, the EAR can be used
to track naturally spoken words and to estimate
how many words women and men use over the
course of a day .
In the default paradigm, participants wear
the EAR for several days during their waking
hours. The device is programmed to record for
30 s every 12.5 min. All captured words spoken
by the participant are transcribed. The number
of spoken words per day can then be estimated
by extrapolating from a simple word count, the
number of sampled sound files, and the record-
ing time per sound file.
We addressed the question about sex differ-
ences in daily word use with data from six samples
based on 396 participants (210 women and 186
men) that were conducted between 1998 and
2004. Five of the samples were composed of
university students in the United States, and the
sixth, university students in Mexico. T able 1 pro-
vides background information on the samples
along with estimates for the number of words that
female and male participants spoke per day (8).
The data suggest that women spoke on aver-
age 16,215 (SD = 7301) words and men 15,669
(SD = 8633) words over an assumed period of,
on average, 17 waking hours. Expressed in a
common effect-size metric (Cohens d = 0.07),
this sex difference in daily word use (546
words) is equal to only 7% of the standardized
variability among women and men. Further , the
difference does not meet conventional thresh-
olds for statistical significance (P = 0.248, one-
sided test). Thus, 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.
A potential limitation of our analysis is that
all participants were university students. The
resulting homogeneity in the samples with
regard to sociodemographic characteristics may
have affected our estimates of daily word usage.
However , none of the samples provided support
for the idea that women have substantially larger
lexical budgets than men. Further, to the extent
that sex differences in daily word use are as-
sumed to be biologically based, evolved adapta-
tions (3), they should be detectable among
university students as much as in more diverse
samples. We therefore conclude, on the basis of
available empirical evidence, that the wide-
spread and highly publicized stereotype about
female talkativeness is unfounded.
References and Notes
1. R. Lakoff, Language and Womans Place (Harper, New
York, 1975).
2. L. Litosseliti, Gender and Language: Theory and Practice
(Arnold, London, 2006).
3. L. Brizendine, The Female Brain (Morgan Road, New York,
2006).
4. M. Liberman, Sex-Linked Lexical Budgets, http://itre.cis.
upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003420.html
(first accessed 12 December 2006).
5. D. James, J. Drakich, in Gender and Conversational
Interaction, D. Tannen, Ed. (Oxford Univ. Press, New
York, 1993), pp. 281313.
6. P. Rayson, G. Leech, M. Hodges, Int. J. Corpus Linguist. 2 ,
133 (1997).
7. M. R. Mehl, J. W. Pennebaker, M. Crow, J. Dabbs, J. Price,
Behav. Res. M ethods Instrum. Comput. 33, 517
(2001).
8. Details on methods and analysis are available on Science
Online.
9. This research was supported by a grant from the National
Institute of Mental Health (MH 52391). We thank
V. Dominguez, J. Greenberg, S. Holleran, C. Mehl,
M. Peterson, and T. Sc hmader for their valuable
feedback.
Supporting Online Material
www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/317/5834/82/DC1
Materials and Methods
Fig. S1
Table S1
References
16 January 2007; accepted 3 April 2007
10.1126/science.1139940
BREVIA
1
Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson,
AZ 85721, USA.
2
Department of Psychology, Washington
University, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.
3
Department of
Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
78712, USA.
*To whom corre spondence should be addressed. E-mail:
mehl@email.arizona.edu
Table 1. Estimated number of words spoken per day for female and male study participants across
six samples. N = 396. Year refers to the year when the data collection started; duration refers to the
approximate number of days participants wore the EAR; the weighted average weighs the respective
sample group mean by the sample size of the group.
Sample Year Location Duration
Age
range
(years)
Sample size (N)
Estimated average number
(SD) of words spoken per day
Women Men Women Men
1 2004 USA 7 days 1829 56 56 18,443 (7460) 16,576 (7871)
2 2003 USA 4 days 1723 42 37 14,297 (6441) 14,060 (9065)
3 2003 Mexico 4 days 1725 31 20 14,704 (6215) 15,022 (7864)
4 2001 USA 2 days 1722 47 49 16,177 (7520) 16,569 (9108)
5 2001 USA 10 days 1826 7 4 15,761 (8985) 24,051 (10,211)
6 1998 USA 4 days 1723 27 20 16,496 (7914) 12,867 (8343)
Weighted average 16,215 (7301) 15,669 (8633)
6 JULY 2007 VOL 317 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org82
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  • P Rayson
  • G Leech
  • M Hodges
P. Rayson, G. Leech, M. Hodges, Int. J. Corpus Linguist. 2, 133 (1997).
The Female Brain (Morgan Road
  • L Brizendine
L. Brizendine, The Female Brain (Morgan Road, New York, 2006).
Sex-Linked Lexical Budgets
  • M Liberman
M. Liberman, Sex-Linked Lexical Budgets, http://itre.cis. upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003420.html (first accessed 12 December 2006).
  • M R Mehl
  • J W Pennebaker
  • M Crow
  • J Dabbs
  • J Price
M. R. Mehl, J. W. Pennebaker, M. Crow, J. Dabbs, J. Price, Behav. Res. Methods Instrum. Comput. 33, 517 (2001).
This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH 52391)
  • J Dominguez
  • S Greenberg
  • C Holleran
  • M Mehl
  • T Peterson
This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH 52391). We thank V. Dominguez, J. Greenberg, S. Holleran, C. Mehl, M. Peterson, and T. Schmader for their valuable feedback. 443 (7460) 16,576 (7871) 2 2003 USA 4 days 17-23 42 37 14,297 (6441) 14,060 (9065)