Deep chicks

Women's voices have become lower in the last 50 years. Have our bodies changed or are we trying to compete with men?

Published June 5, 2006 6:22PM (EDT)

The Daily Mail reports on a new study out of Britain that claims more women are speaking in lower voices to be accepted in the workplace. Although a little light on details, the study claims that women want to mimic the husky voice of actress Kathleen Turner to "compete with their deep-voiced male counterparts."

This conclusion is based on evidence that women's voices have become deeper in the last 50 years; the average pitch among women 18 to 25 apparently dropped by 23-hertz, equivalent to a semi-tone drop. (That means lower.) "Women have been striving to attain acceptance in a previously male-dominated society and they may have lowered their tone to enter that realm," Jonnie Robinson, a curator at the British Library and a dialect expert, told the Mail. "A deeper voice might be associated more with power."

It's not exactly a new trend; Lady Thatcher apparently was advised to sound less shrill, and Princess Diana supposedly underwent coaching to speak in a less breathy voice. And every high schooler in America who has ever dreamed of being on the news has walked around her bedroom trying to emulate the trademark lilt and cadence of public radio broadcaster Terry Gross.

I seriously question whether this so-called trend, which started in the 1970s, according to the article, is an effort to sound "manly," but rather to sound more "professional" -- the same way you hope your parents call you at your first job so you can shock them with how serious your voice is. It is interesting that when women try to make their voices deeper, they're thought to be trying to sound more masculine, although men talk in lower tones, too, when they want to appear extra authoritative.

There also may be another force at work: body changes. Yorkshire voice trainer Francis Newton says that as women's bodies grow bigger, their vocal cords become longer. As a result, their pitch and frequency become lower.

Whatever the sound of your voice -- booming, breathy, bubbly or squeaky -- if you want to compete with a man, use it to say these words: "Give me equal pay!'

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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