Let’s just get this out of the way: There are, in fact, differences in the way men and women think, speak, act, etc. How much of that difference is due to nature and how much is due to nurture is up for debate. But that is not what this post is about.

This post is about a particular language myth that, for whatever reason, will not die. There are literally dozens of peer-reviewed, scientific studies refuting this myth, and yet the popular culture clings to it.

The myth I’m referring to is the idea that women talk more than men.

Language Log has done an article on one version of this myth, in which it is claimed that women speak 20,000 words per day while men speak only 7,000. Any scientist worth their salt will see three red flags immediately: (1) why are the numbers so nice and round?, (2) why are the numbers so different?, and (3) where is the p-value?

(If those three thoughts didn’t immediately cross your mind, I recommend reading Darrel Huff’s How To Lie With Statistics, which is legally free for download here).

Recently, I saw this comic posted by a company that hires linguists on one of their social media outlets:


I get it. It’s funny. It takes a common stereotype in society and amplifies it into hyperbole for comedic effect. That’s the basis for a lot of comedy. In and of itself, the comic isn’t particularly offensive or bothersome.

What bothered me were the replies. Many were jokes, also perpetuating the same stereotype. A large number were snarky comments along the lines of “It’s because we have to repeat ourselves to get men to listen” or “All men have to say is ‘yes, dear’.” Other comments were along the lines of “this is totally my wife!” or “I see you haven’t met my husband!” Some women bragged about their larger vocabularies and attention to detail while some men argued that “quantity doesn’t equal quality.”

I couldn’t read all 800+ comments, but of the ones I saw, only one commenter said it was a myth. That commenter didn’t provide a citation to back their claim.

The lack of replies contesting the claim with science and the huge number of replies reinforcing the claim with anecdotes tells me that this myth is still alive and well in society. Let’s fix that.

Women don’t talk more than men. Period. In fact, women talk about the same amount as men. You can see this in this graph (women in yellow, men in red) from Mehl et. al (2007):


Males in this study averaged 15,669 words per day. Females averaged 16,215 words per day. This difference is not statistically significant. It’s also a difference of less than 1,000, unlike the false claim of a difference of 13,000 debunked by Language Log earlier.

Most of the outliers in the above graph (people who talked more than ~35,000 words) are men, so some men do talk quite a bit more than women. In same-sex conversations, men and women tend to talk about the same number of words. But in mixed-sex conversations, men tend to talk more. This is likely because holding the floor in a conversation is a sign of dominance, and men are socialized to display dominance. But even so, on the whole, the difference isn’t big enough to be noteworthy.

So, are there gender differences between men and women? Yes. Is the amount they talk per day (measured in words) one of them? Absolutely not.

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