When Uber board member David Bonderman quipped more women on the board would mean more talking, the result was his swift departure.
It has been claimed women speak about 20,000 words a day - 13,000 more than the average man. The suggestion has been that men are more economical with words using them in a more focused and superior way. The thing is, it appears that none of these statistical claims was backed by data.
Emerging research shows, there may be minor differences between the way men and women speak, some hormonal, mostly cultural, situation-specific and not universal.
The University of Maryland conducted a study with 10 3-5-year-old boys and girls. The girls used about 13,000 words more than the boys. The finding was girls brains have a 30% higher Foxp2 protein also referred to as ‘language protein’ in a brain area key to language in humans. Girls do tend to speak earlier with more complex sentences than boys in childhood. However, that result was only in females under the age of five. What about adults?
Estrogen heightens the production of oxytocin levels, so women get a sort of high from a friendly interaction. Testosterone seems to play it's part as well. In one study, 18 female-to-male transgender participants underwent MRI brain scans before and after significant doses of testosterone. Grey matter in communication areas decreased while white matter in listening areas increased. Interesting. How does this play out in real life though?
Wearing a device for capturing and measuring conversations, Northeastern University studied 133 adults. Women talked more in casual discussions, situations where they’re sustaining relationships, either with their families, friends, or other circles they wish to maintain. Men will speak more in more extended discussions, or if they are given a task where they have to reach a consensus. With six or more people, men were more likely to dominate the conversation. Situations where power and influence are at stake. So do women talk more than men. Well, it depends.
The scientific journal Science published a study where 396 participants (evenly split) had a recorder automatically recording 30 seconds every 12.5 minutes capturing 5% of their day. The result of that study was women speak 16,215 words a day and men speak 15,669 words a day. So, no real difference.
So, do women talk more than men? The only research that suggested this had a sample of 10 3-5 year olds. So the concept is mostly stereotypical. Factually, it seems to be situationally dependent.
From personal experience, as the only man living in a female-dominated household, all of the above rings true. I am the most extroverted person in our family, and the most talkative. If the females are not telling stories or sharing ideas over dinner, they all have their heads down getting things done. Uber board member David Bonderman should have known better.