“Think before you speak. Read before you think.” -Fran Lebowitz


Women’s tongues are like lambs’ tails – they are never still. –English

The North Sea will sooner be found wanting in water than a woman at a loss for words. –Jutlandic

The woman with active hands and feet, marry her, but the woman with overactive mouth, leave well alone. –Maori

When both husband and wife wear pants it is not difficult to tell them apart – he is the one who is listening. –American

Nothing is so unnatural as a talkative man or a quiet woman. –Scottish

Where there are women and geese, there’s noise. –Japanese.

The tongue is the sword of a woman and she never lets it become rusty. -Chinese

Women clearly talk more than men, right? The stereotype is so strong across so many cultures and places so clearly this is one stereotype based in fact. Right?


Well, let us look at the evidence.

Researchers reviewed sixty-three studies that looked at how much American men and women talked when put together in various situations. Out of sixty-three studies, women spoke more than men in exactly two.

In New Zealand, a researcher compared the talking time of experts and interviewers on television. In situations where the time was meant to be split into thirds, men took over half of the time. Every time.

Another researcher analyzed the talking time of men and women in 100 open forums. Women dominated those discussions…7% of the time. When the participants were equally divided along gender lines, men still managed to take two-thirds of the speaking time.

I had a meeting with a [female] sales manager and three of my [male] directors once…it took about two hours. She only spoke once and one of my fellow directors cut across her and said ‘What Anne is trying to say, Roger, is…’ and I think that about sums it up. He knew better than Anne what she was trying to say, and she never got anything said.

Let’s look at some other professional situations, shall we?

Years ago, while producing the hit TV series “The Shield,” Glen Mazzara noticed that two young female writers were quiet during story meetings. He pulled them aside and encouraged them to speak up more.

Watch what happens when we do, they replied.

Almost every time they started to speak, they were interrupted or shot down before finishing their pitch. When one had a good idea, a male writer would jump in and run with it before she could complete her thought.

A Yale psychologist tracked the speaking time of new senators and those with more tenure and leadership. She found that tenured male senators spoke much more than their junior colleagues, but female senators’ speaking time did not significantly increase with time or power.

After discovering this gender inconsistency, the psychologist asked professionals to judge the competence of executives based on how often they shared their opinion. Male executives who spoke up received 10% higher competency ratings. Meanwhile, female executives who shared their opinions openly received 14% lower competency ratings from both men and women.

Another analysis showed that women who make their companies significant revenue and contribute good ideas do not receive better performance reviews and are not seen in a better light by their bosses. Men, however, are.

A researcher at UT had various males and females suggest a proven idea for streamlining their team’s inventory. He found that the women who suggested the new idea were viewed as less loyal by their leaders and those leaders were less likely to take the suggestion. Even when the leaders were told that one member of their team was given unique, helpful information, the women were ignored.

Women do not talk more. They know that talking more will do them harm, both professionally and socially. All those pictures up top saying that women outpace men by thousands of words per day? False. The erroneous numbers seem to have started with someone trying to sell a book. The real numbers?

But in the end, the sexes came out just about even in the daily averages: women at 16,215 words and men at 15,669. In terms of statistical significance, Pennebaker says, “It’s not even remotely close to different.”

So, our daily averages are about the same, but in mixed and professional situations, men dominate time and again. There is abundant research that this starts early–we’re talking elementary school early. From the classroom to the boardroom, women are not heard in public. Being listened to in public is a confirmation of importance and social status. So what does this say about where society places women? What does it say about how women view themselves?

To be fair, many of those pictures up top seemed to be referencing couples, not executives. So:

Another study compared the relative amount of talk of spouses. Men dominated the conversations between couples with traditional gender roles and expectations, but when the women were associated with a feminist organization they tended to talk more than their husbands. So feminist women were more likely to challenge traditional gender roles in interaction.

It seems possible that both these factors – expert status and feminist philosophy – have the effect of developing women’s social confidence. This explanation also fits with the fact that women tend to talk more with close friends and family, when women are in the majority, and also when they are explicitly invited to talk (in an interview, for example).

So, women are starting to realize that they are worthy of a voice, both in their relationships and in public. We still only expect people to listen to us if they are close to us or if we are an expert on the topic, but it’s progress. But that is how we see ourselves, how do the men see the women?

When a teacher worked at giving equal talking time to both boys and girls, he felt he was giving the girls 90% of his attention and his male pupils agreed. They complained angrily about it, in fact. Got that? An attempt at equality is seen as overwhelming favor and bitterly resented.

The same thing happens at seminars and debates, too. At a workshop where 32 women and 5 men were in attendance, analysis showed that the 5 men spoke over 50% of the time. They said what they wanted to say and set the tone for what was to be said and how. The researcher noted that there was no hostility, but the pressure the men exerted on the conversation was accepted without comment or question.

When women are given equal time to talk, it is believed that women were given more than their fair share. After all, what is fair in a patriarchal society? Dale Spencer says this:

The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence. Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women.

How do we fix this extreme disparity? Easy. Listen to women.

35 thoughts on ““Think before you speak. Read before you think.” -Fran Lebowitz

  1. The world would, perhaps, be a much better place if men shut up and listened, truly listened, to what women had to say. Furthermore, if we look at the circumference of a Japanese circle compared to that of a French circle, we will see that squares are not as round as triangles. Now, to add more important fuel to this fire, I will write down the entire King James Bible followed closely by the complete works of Shakespeare. In the beginning….etc, etc, etc….Blah, blah, blah, blah…! 🙂

          1. Clever. That reminds me of a tale Herman Melville once told me. You may have heard of it: “Moby Dick”. In case you haven’t, I’ll recite it for you. “Call me Ishmael….” . 🙂

  2. This has been my experience too. The women in my life are nearly always talked over, cut down, or completely ignored in one way or another. It’s incredibly frustrating for them and I wish there was some way I could help to change this. The gender bias is definitely there, and it’s not hard to see if one has their eyes open.

  3. Could you provide more info on the couple’s studies? I’m curious. In my personal, and entirely anecdotal experience, women & men speak in very different ways. Women seem to be more curious (ask more questions) which I think is why they’re perceived as speaking more. They cause speech. Men learn patriarchal discourse patterns (generally in the 1st person.) I am, I do, I have. The simplicity of it makes it seem succinct. Just a guess, but I think that’s what causes the optical (auditory?) illusion.

    1. You’ve hit an important point that I came across in the research. When women do talk, in either personal or professional settings, most of their speech is “supportive and facilitative” while men’s speech is more “referential or informative”. It seems that those behaviors are a result of socialization more than anything else. It’s funny, to me ‘facilitative’ speech seems like it would be dismissed far easier than ‘informative’ speech, but perhaps not when comparing ‘supportive’ speech to silence.

      As far as the couple study, unfortunately the article was an excerpt of a book and does not cite the study itself. Googling is only getting me feminist and sexist opinion articles, so no help there. The book is called ‘Language Myths’.

  4. Found this interesting study: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep05604
    Apparently context is a major factor: “… They found that women were only slightly more likely than men to engage in con­ver­sa­tions in the lunch-​​break set­ting, both in terms of long– and short-​​duration talks. In the aca­d­emic set­ting, in which con­ver­sa­tions likely indi­cated col­lab­o­ra­tion around the task, women were much more likely to engage in long con­ver­sa­tions than men. That effect was true for shorter con­ver­sa­tions, too, but to a lesser degree. These find­ings were lim­ited to small groups of talkers. When the groups con­sisted of six or more par­tic­i­pants, it was men who did the most talking.”

    1. A lot of the research I found had to do with larger groups, so this is interesting. Though some of what I came across also talked about situations in which women felt invited to talk, i.e.: an academic interview. In fact, it said that women were much more likely to talk for longer amounts of time than men in these situations. They hypothesized that it had to do with the status. Women are willing to talk when they feel their voice counts, even if it doesn’t add to their social status. Meanwhile, men aren’t so interested in talking when they don’t see any social benefit.

      Your research mentions that the context flip seems to be whether or not their is a task involved, which is why this is an especially important issue in professional settings.

  5. A great article, for which many thanks Madalyn. Essentially, the differences are contextual then, with women speaking just 3.4% more than men overall. Both genders think equally, meaning pretty much all the time, whether it be verbal thinking (words), visual thinking (imagery), aural thinking (sound, music), or more rarely, thinking in representations of the other three physical senses. Talking is just one aspect of thinking of course, and its expressions determined by culture far moreso than thinking itself.

    My anecdotal evidence over 60+ years suggests that, here in England, females engage verbally far more in social situations, and males moreso in controlled environments where the boundaries are often clearer. I was on the board of directors of four companies, and found that this attribute of males was seldom beneficial during management meetings. Many times, I noticed that those who verbalised less – and that minority included a majority of females – had more value in what they expressed, and were less attached to the point of view contained in those expressions. In other words, the males were impelled more by an egoic desire to be correct, the females more to a self-effacing objectivity and relevance.

    1. Your experience certainly seems in line with the research. I’d be interested to see more information on how each gender speaks in social environments, especially under differing topics.

      1. What would your anecdotal experience suggest to you, Madalyn, about the assertion that females are more socially loquacious, assuming no boundaries are set on the topics under discussion?

        1. My social experiences suggest that it really depends on the context, specifically how well the people know one another and the topics discussed. Whichever people are best acquainted tend to rule the conversation, with the exception of talkative extroverts. When everyone is equally familiar, I’d say that it is pretty even unless the topic turns to something that the men feel is important to them, then they take over. The only times I’ve really seen women ‘in charge’ of conversations is when the women are well acquainted but the men aren’t and the topic of conversation remains ‘neutral’.

  6. Madalyn, I really appreciate this post. As I was reading through the comment you made to Jeff: “When women do talk, in either personal or professional settings, most of their speech is “supportive and facilitative” while men’s speech is more “referential or informative”. It seems that those behaviors are a result of socialization more than anything else.” I was reminded of a study. The late Stanford communications professor Clifford Nass, who coauthored the field’s seminal book, Wired for Speech, wrote that people tend to perceive female voices as helping us solve our problems by ourselves, while they view male voices as authority figures who tell us the answers to our problems.

    He also found that women’s voices are perceived more as helpers, assistants, secretaries, and, therefore, less intelligent. Nass who studied people’s interaction with technology said that people apply gender biases even to digital voices, and iPhone owners in the U.S. might be more inclined to overlook a male Siri’s shortcomings than a female’s.

    He wrote:

    ““Female voices are seen, on average, as less intelligent than male voices. It’s safer in a sense to have a male voice in the sense that you’re not going to disappoint people as much.”

    Referring to technology, such as GPS and Siri, this article states:

    “In some countries, including France and the U.K., Siri debuted with a male voice. The dominant gender stereotypes in different nations helped determine whether Siri was endowed with a male or female voice, experts surmised. In the U.S., researchers have found users more accustomed to feminine avatars. Virtual personas with female voices can be seen as less knowledgeable than their male counterparts, but female voices are preferred in avatars that serve in a helper or assistant role, said Nass.

    In other roles — and other countries — female voices may not fly at all. In The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, Nass documents how BMW was forced to recall one of its cars because male drivers in Germany didn’t trust the female voice offering directions from the car’s navigation system. In Japan, a call center operated by Fidelity would rely on an automated female voice to give stock quotes, but would transfer customers to an automated male voice for transactions, Nass explained.”

    It is disconcerting that even in countries where there’s more equality, women are still perceived as less intelligent, and this, I believe, is one of the main reasons why women are shot down by men before having the opportunity to finish their pitch. I look forward to your next post.

    1. I know it has taken me forever to reply, but I’ve thought about this comment a lot the past few weeks. It is maddening to me that there are still people that deny there is an issue at all, or that the issue is elsewhere. Bias has passed for normal for so long, it is frightening.

  7. Excellent post, Madalyn.

    In related research:
    Jan 29 2016


    Despite having key roles in a number of today’s Disney princess films, new research indicates women characters speak less than their male counterparts.

    According to the Washington Post (via CBS News), linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer analyzed all of the dialogue from the Disney princess franchise and discovered men have more speaking lines.

    The report reveals that in The Little Mermaid, men speak 68 percent of the time. Additionally, men speak 71 percent of the time in Beauty and the Beast, 76 percent in Pocahontas, 77 percent in Mulan and a whopping 90 percent in Aladdin. Believe it or not, men even have more lines of dialogue in Frozen, speaking 59 percent of the time in a film centered around two princesses.


    One is kinda… speechless. Not surprised, though. Art, such as it is, imitates life.

    From your post:

    When a teacher worked at giving equal talking time to both boys and girls, he felt he was giving the girls 90% of his attention and his male pupils agreed. They complained angrily about it, in fact. Got that? An attempt at equality is seen as overwhelming favor and bitterly resented.

    That sums up the mindset of MRA and their ilk, although not only (obviously).

    1. P.S. This is a better link:

      The earlier one is the first that showed up in my search, so I grabbed it. I was dismayed, but not surprised, to read the comments; after all, the gaming community is notoriously misogynistic.

      Unfortunately, as you’ll see reading the comments on the WaPo article, things are not much better there (or in any other outlet I’ve seen so far that reported this research).

  8. This was a good read with very interesting contrasts — and the results, about who really talks more doesn’t surprise me — and I’ll be looking forward to what your next post provides Madalyn. Well done and thanks! 🙂

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