boys are less communicative than girls

Parents, teachers, and others who frequently interact with children commonly think that boys are less communicative than girls. Consistent with this common sense, a scholarly article on sex differences in volubility observed:

Females are typically more voluble than males when speaking with a same-sex conversational partner of their own choosing.  Exceptions to this, when they have occurred, generally involve time- and topic-constrained interactions.  Pre-adult females also tend to talk more often than their male counterparts. [1]

The academic communication studies cited in support of this proposition are somewhat weak. The common sense of sex differences does, however, have considerable factual support.

Recent, relatively high-quality studies indicate that boys less frequently use communication technologies with friends than do girls.  A U.S., nationally representative survey in the fall of 2007 found that 24% of boys (ages 12-17) communicate daily with friends via landline or home phone. The corresponding figure for girls (ages 12-17) is 47%.  Similar figures for mobile phone use for boys and girls are 26% and 45%, respectively. Boys also use text messaging, instant messaging, social networking site messaging, and email statistically significantly less than girls.[2]

Daily Communicative Activities with Friends
(% participating)
among boys among girls
Talk on landline or home phone 24% 47%
Talk on cell phone 26% 45%
Send text messages 28% 44%
Send instant messages 25% 34%
Send social networking site messages 16% 31%
Send email 12% 20%

Fewer boys than girls use most new communication technologies. Users of social networking sites include 49% of boys and 61% of girls. Reading blogs engages 43% of boys and 57% of girls.  Boys are also less active in posting photos online than are girls (40% of boys post photos; 54% of girls post photos). Boys in addition indicate less concern about who sees their online photos: only 29% of boys ages 15 to 17 restrict access to their photos, while 49% of girls of those ages restrict access. With respect to writing blogs, 20% of boys, compared to 35% of girls, blog.[3]

More boys than girls share videos online and play formally structured digital games.  Persons posting online videos include 19% of boys and 10% of girls. Posting videos online is a much less popular activity than using social networking sites, reading blogs, and posting photos. Gaming is a more popular activity, with 67% of boys and girls playing computer or console games, and 49% playing online games.  A larger share of boys than girls participate in these activities.  Video is a relatively undemanding media for social (presence-oriented) communication. Many digital games are oriented toward systematizing, instrumental activity. Video sharing and digital gaming use are consistent with a common sex difference in communicative orientation.[4]

Boys are more likely to be least socially communicative and girls are more likely to be most socially communicative.  Consider seven communicative activities:  (1) spending time in person, (2) talking on landline phone, (3) talking on a mobile (cell) phone, (4) text messaging,  (5) emailing, (6) instant messaging, and (7) messaging on social networking sites.   Among those engaging in zero of these communicative activities several times or more per week with their friends were 16% of boys and 5% of girls.  Among those engaging in five to seven of these communicative activities several times or more per week with their friends were 19% of boys and 36% of girls.[5]

Extent of Communicative Activities
(activities with friends several times per week)
communicative activities
(# out of 7)
among boys among girls
0 16% 5%
1-2 35% 26%
3-4 30% 33%
5-7 19% 36%

Communication and sex are vitally important.  They also are obviously related in the wonderful evolutionary creation of human beings.

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Notes:

[1] Locke and Hauser (1999) p. 152 [in-text citations omitted].  Greeno and Semple (2008) p. 4 indicates that there is a lack of evidence of sex differences in vocalisation rates in humans. However, see evidence above and evidence of sex differences in adult telephone use. Differences in selective pressure on males and females have been common around the world for a long time. Recent research indicates that different selective pressures can have genetic effects relatively rapidly and have accelerated through to the present. Given current knowledge in paleoanthropology, genetics, and biology, an absence of sex differences in communication would be quite surprising.

[2] For cited statistics, see Lenhart et. al. (2008) p. 35.  The first table summarizes these figures.  Spending time daily in person outside of school with friends characterizes 38% of boys and 40% of girls. Hence differences in use of communication technologies is much greater than differences in daily personal action with friends.

[3] For cited statistics, see Lenhart e. al. (2007) pp. 36, 19, 21, 22, 3.  Data from a U.S. nationally representative survey in Oct.-Nov. of 2006.  It included boys and girls ages 12-17. For additional comparisons, see a table of all the sex comparisons provided in the report.

[4] For cited statistics, see id. pp. 3, 37.  The report doesn’t provide figures for gaming broken down by sex, but indicates that boys are more likely than girls to play computer or console games. Some data on sex differences among adults in online gaming are available.

[5] For cited statistics, see id. p. 29.  The second table provides the full set of statistics of this type.

References:

Greeno, Nathalie C. and Stuart Semple (2008). “Sex differences in vocal communication among adult rhesus macaques.” Evolution and Human Behavior, published online 10 November 2008.

Lenhart, Amanda, Mary Madden, Alexandra Rankin Macgill, Aaron Smith (2007), “Teens and Social Media,” Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Lenhart, Amanda, Sousan Arafeh, Aaron Smith, Alexandra Rankin Macgill (2008), “Writing, Technology and Teens,” Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Locke, John L. and Marc D. Hauser (1999). “Sex and Status Effects on Primate Volubility: Clues to the Origin of Vocal Language?” Evolution and Human Behavior 20: 151-158.

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