July 09, 2007
The Pitch of Women's Voices
Virginia Postrel notes something which, if true, might actually be slightly worrying:
LAT columnist Meghan Daum wonders why women's voices seem to be getting higher pitched and more girlish, something I've puzzled about myself.
Without bothering to go and find references or prove anything, that being far too complex for a Monday morning, I seem to recall that the difference in pitch between male and female voices can be used to measure the social equality between men and women. Yes, size does make a difference to the size of vocal chords and women do tend to be smaller than men but the variations in vocal pitch are vastly greater than would be explained by this.
The actual example I've seen discussed was that Dutch men and women have the smallest difference in "sex pitch" while the Japanese have one of the highest. It's is also noted that Holland is one of the more (if not one of the most) sexually equal societies, Japan one of the least (for example, it's still entirely common for women not just to give up work upon marriage, but to be barred from it).
Proving causality is another thing, but it's an interesting observation at the very least.
So if it is indeed true that American female voices are rising in pitch in general, that's not really a great sign for the direction in which sexual equality is moving.
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I first heard this theory twenty years ago (in the context of Kate Bush) and I see no reason to disbelieve it.
Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Jul 9, 2007 10:19:22 AM
One really odd thing is that women whistle at a higher pitch than men too - it seems to correspond vaguely with one's vocal range. I can't for the life of me see why this happens.
Posted by: Hilary Wade | Jul 9, 2007 11:07:19 AM
"It's is also noted that Holland is one of the more (if not one of the most) sexually equal societies, Japan one of the least"
"Japan is the world’s most innovative nation, followed by Switzerland, the US and Sweden, according to Innovation: Transforming the way business creates, a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Cisco."
"Japan's single women are being offered the ultimate sleeping partner - a comfort to cuddle up to, but one which does not snore or make demands. The Boyfriend's Arm Pillow, shaped like a man's torso with one sturdy arm, has been on sale since December and has so far been snapped up by 1,000 singles."
But men in Japan are making appropriate countervailing responses in technologically innovative ways:
For economists only - note the special contemporary relevance of Schumpeter's insight in his book: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), "the gale of creative destruction" as a "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one."
Posted by: Bob B | Jul 9, 2007 1:01:17 PM
"So if it is indeed true that American female voices are rising in pitch in general, that's not really a great sign for the direction in which sexual equality is moving."
If the same is true in the UK, how long before NuLabour introduce legislation to enforce pitch equality? If their proposal to ban images of simulated violent pornography to reduce violent crime is anything to go by they have just the right ignorance of cusality to push it through :)
Posted by: sortapundit | Jul 9, 2007 2:58:27 PM
If vocal cords are longer then the frequency at which they vibrate is also longer, giving a lower-pitched sound. The voicebox grows larger during puberty. It's a normal part of men's secondary sexual characteristics.
Posted by: Opinionated | Jul 9, 2007 3:14:47 PM
You're not seriously saying that size differential is the same as social or sexual differential, are you?
Posted by: Chris | Jul 9, 2007 9:26:50 PM