Toss out the stereotype that women blab more than men. Women and men both speak about 16,000 words a day, according to a new study.
For more than a decade, researchers have asserted that women speak much more than men do, with one neuropsychiatrist reporting in a book ("The Female Brain") that women use 20,000 words per day compared to only 7,000 for men.
The author of the book, Louann Brizendine of the University of California, San Francisco, said she later found out those numbers were based on an “unreliable” study.
The old "chatty Kathy" claims are questionable, even though they have circulated through the popular culture, according to the authors of the current study published in the July 6 issue of the journal Science.
“Although many people believe the stereotypes of females as talkative and males as reticent, there is no large-scale study that systematically has recorded the natural conversations of large groups of people for extended period of time,” said study co-author James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin.
To record informal conversations, Pennebaker, along with Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona and other colleagues developed unobtrusive digital voice recorders programmed to record snippets of ambient sounds periodically. Between 1984 and 2004, nearly 400 university students from the United States and Mexico wore the recorders for up to 10 days.
The researchers transcribed the conversations and analyzed them, finding that women spoke an average of 16,215 daily words while men averaged 15,669 words a day. The difference between the two groups was not statistically significant, and the scientists rounded up to say that both men and women used an average of 16,000 words each day.
That's about 15 words per waking minute, assuming a person sleeps 7 hours.
Mehl noted that there are "very large individual differences around this mean," or average. For instance, one of the most talkative males spewed out 47,000 words a day (nearly 1 per second) compared with just more than 500 daily words for the least talkative male.
In fact, the three chat-chart toppers were men.
“I think this new advance now allows us to say that the issue of women being more chatty than men can be relegated to the category of myth,” Brizendine, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. “The interesting question that needs to be answered next is why this myth of women’s talkativeness has persisted so tenaciously for decades."
One idea is that men who don’t feel like listening to women talk could perceive the chatter as more than it really is, Brizendine said. “It may be more of a measure of men’s desire not to listen to women talk,” she said.
The authors of the new study say one limitation of their research is that it focused on college students, who might not represent the talk trends of the entire population. However, the researchers said, the study showed no support for the idea that women have larger “lexical budgets” than men.