both sexes talk longer on the telephone with women

The best, published, empirical work on sex differences in the use of communication devices is from researchers working for France Telecom.  Smoreda and Licoppe (2000) studied telephone calling behavior across four months in 317 households randomly selected from telephone-owning households in three regions of France.   They collected both call-billing records (which are more accurate than survey data) and did follow-up interviews with all household members over age 11 who reported regular telephone use.  They found that males on average talked on the telephone about half as many total minutes as did females.  Telephone contacts with family and friends accounted for 67% of men’s telephone calls and 75% of women’s telephone calls.  This sex difference in the use of the telephone is strongest among older men and women.[1]

Male and female callers had similar average call durations by sex of the person called.  Both sexes, however, had an intrasexually skewed call distribution.   Male-to-male calls accounted for 59% of males’ calls, while female-to-female calls accounted for 69% of females’ calls.  In addition, males made 41% fewer calls overall than did females.  The differences in the sex distribution of persons called and in the total number of calls made almost wholly accounts for males talking on the telephone for only about half as many total minutes as did females.[2]

Average Call Duration
(in minutes)
Male Receiver Female Receiver
Male Caller 4.6 6.9
Female Caller 4.9 7.1
Source: Smoreda & Licoppe (2000) Fig. 1, p. 245.

Recent research from U.S. university-based researchers has challenged the common stereotype that men are relatively silent or uncommunicative.  Mehl et al. (2007) fitted six samples of university students (a total of 210 women and 186 men) with devices having a fixed 30-second-on, 12.5-minute-off recording cycle.   Participants were instructed to wear the device during all their waking hours.  The number of days participants wore the device varied from two to ten.  From the recorded samples, the researchers estimated the number of word per day that participants spoke.  They found that women and men both averaged about 16,000 words spoken per day.  Moreover, variation across words spoken per day was large across individuals of both sexes.  Men spoke on average 3% fewer words per day than women, but this difference was not statistically significant within the sampling scheme of the study.

While debunking particular popular stereotypes can be rewarding, Mehl et al. (2007) obscures communicative circumstances.  Human communication capabilities evolved in conjunction with the evolution of sociality.  The communication samples analyzed in Mehl et al. (2007) consist of young persons attending co-ed universities.  The social circumstances of human interaction at co-ed universities isn’t representative of most human interaction in typical primate societies or across human evolutionary history.  In addition, the reported estimates aggregate highly structured, non-discretionary talk among non-friends with discretionary chat with friends.[3]  Sex differences in online gaming and in novel-reading are related to more general sex differences in motivations and interests.  These differences are not relevant to non-discretionary talk with non-friends.

Smorda and Licoppe (2000)’s finding that both females and males talk significantly longer when they call females is consistent with psychological tests of implicit gender preferences.  The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures the speed with which a subject dichotomously characterizes items.  It has been interpreted to measure implicit attitudes or biases.  It may provide interesting data, or it may be tendentious pseudo-science.  To get some sense of how it works, you can examine and try an IAT here.   A variety of IATs indicate that women have a much stronger, more positive own-gender preference than do men. [4]  Both women and men seem to like women better than men.  Scholars who assert that “men are culturally valued more than women” (whatever that means) see gender preferences as a social anomaly.[5]  Draw your own conclusions about communicative bias.


[1] Smoreda and Licoppe (2000) p. 240, n. 5 and p. 241, Table 1.  A 2005 Cingular survey similarly showed that 62% of men, compared to 82% of women, used their wireless phone (primarily?) to talk with friends and family.

[2] Survey-based data from AT&T and Cingular from 2001 to 2007 (Excel spreadsheet here) indicates men spend more minutes talking on mobile phones, while women spend more minutes talking on home phones. Not controlling for whether a person worked outside or inside the home might account for this pattern.  The AT&T survey data have some other anomalies.  A reasonable interpretation of the data is that in the U.S. about 2005, men on average spent 17% fewer minutes talking on the phone than did women.  Samarajiva (2008), in a survey of low-income telephone users in India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, found little gender differences in calls per month and call duration.

Ling (2005), Table 1, indicates that males ages 16-19 sent 41% fewer SMS messages than females of that age.   Male SMS volume for other age groups through ages 54 is less than female SMS volume, but not significantly less.  Neilsen Mobile’s recent data on texting in the U.S. shows a huge bulge in texting for ages 13-17, but the data are not broken down by sex.

Survey data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that girls ages 12-17 are significantly more communicative than boys of those ages.

[3]  The amount of discretionary chat with friends almost surely has significant day-of-week variation. The samples vary in the days of weeks included, but data for within-individual day-of-week variations in words spoken aren’t reported.

[4] See, e.g. Rudman and Goodwin (2004) and Nosek and Banaji (2001).  Project Implicit includes 15 demonstration tests covering a range of socially and politically salient concerns.  But it doesn’t include a gender preference test.

[5] E.g. Rudman and Goodwin (2004) p. 494.


Ling, Rich. (2005). “The socio-linguistics of SMS: An analysis of SMS use by a random sample of Norwegians.” In Mobile communications: Renegotiation of the social sphere, edited by R. Ling and P. Pedersen.  London: Springer, pp. 335-349.

Mehl, Matthias R., Simine Vazire, Nairán Ramírez-Esparza, Richard B. Slatcher, and James W. Pennebaker. (2007).  Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men? Science, v. 317, p. 82.

Nosek, Brian A. and Mahzarin R. Banaji. (2001). The Go/No Go Association Task. Social Cognition, Vol. 19, No. 6, pp. 625-664.

Rudman, Laurie A. and Stephanie A. Goodwin. (2004). Gender differences in automatic in-group bias: Why do women like women more than men like men? Journal of personality and social psychology, vol. 87, no. 4, pp. 494-509.

Samarajiva, Rohan. (2008).   Who’s got the phone? The gendered use of telephones at the bottom of the pyramid.  LIRNEasia pre-publication 1.8.

Smoreda, Zbigniew, and Christian Licoppe. (2000).  Gender-Specific Use of the Domestic Telephone. Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 63, No.3, pp. 238-252.

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