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Women's voices get deeper How the role model changes the voice

11/22/2017 by Susanna Felix

Women speak deeper today than they used to. This phenomenon cannot be explained biologically. Rather, the new role model of women seems to be the reason for this. However, not all women are equally affected.

Image source: colourbox / Montage BR

Women speak up, men speak deeply - that has always been the case. But will it stay that way? Our environment, our life - everything is changing. And that has an impact on us - even if it doesn't always seem logical: For example, while our life expectancy is increasing, children are also reaching puberty earlier and earlier. As a result, the voice breaks several years earlier than in Bach's time. In the past few decades women have also seen a change in their voices.

Study with surprising results

Several thousand Leipzig citizens took part in a large study for which researchers examined the development of the human voice. It turned out that women between the ages of forty and eighty speak much more deeply today than they did a few decades ago. The average speaking level of these women is around 168 Hz, only about a fifth higher than that of the men, whose voice frequency is still around 110 Hz. In the past, the average speaking pitch of women was 220 Hz - an octave higher than that of men.

Biologically and hormonally inexplicable

At first the doctors suspected biological reasons: General physical development - for example that we are getting bigger and bigger - could be responsible for the fact that the voices have also become deeper, so the assumption. "Then the male voices would have had to get deeper," says Michael Fuchs, head of the Phoniatrics and Audiology Section at the Leipzig University Hospital. Next, the Leipzig researchers examined the hormonal situation of women, said Fuchs. But here, too, there was no evidence: "In all 1,400 women, the hormone status was completely normal. There were no changes to previous values." The smoking behavior of women cannot be decisive for the results either, explains Fuchs: "Even if we factor out the female smokers, we arrive at the result of the lower female voices." So the reasons had to lie elsewhere.

New role models and emancipation

The researchers suspect that the lower female voices are a result of social and societal change. "It will probably be the role model of women that has changed in our society," concludes Fuchs. What is interesting, however, is that this vocal change was found in women over forty years of age. Aren't young women much more involved in the process of emancipation?

Anatomical drawing of the vocal cords | Source: wikimedia Studies on children and adolescents have shown something interesting: "Young women's voices shortly after puberty are even higher. They are at the aforementioned 220 Hz." Michael Fuchs and his colleagues therefore suspect that the sharp drop in the female speaking voice occurs between the ages of twenty and forty. "That is exactly this phase of life in which you establish yourself, in which the woman has to take on new functions in the family, but above all in everyday professional life," says Fuchs. Apparently that also affects the voice.

An advantage for your career: deep voices

Whether unconsciously or not - a deep voice obviously has a positive effect on your job and career. "We know from psychoacoustic studies that we tend to trust deeper voices more than higher ones," explains Fuchs, "higher voices always signal insecurity, perhaps also a need for protection, while a deep voice signals credibility and trustworthiness." Seen in this way, women would be naturally disadvantaged in this regard. A difference that needs to be ironed out.

Targeted speech training for women

In order to be taken more seriously, women take part in speech training courses and management seminars where they learn to speak in a relaxed - and therefore relatively deep - voice. Adina Mornell is a professor of instrumental and vocal pedagogy at the Munich University of Music, but also works with executives specifically on the voice: "Your own voice is your calling card. What I do with my voice creates the first impression," says Mornell. At the same time, she emphasizes that it would be wrong to control the voice: "That would be the wrong direction. But I can hear how I sound and use targeted exercises to bring my voice to an optimal pitch and relaxation."

German women in global comparison

If you look at other countries and cultures, the global situation of women's voices is relatively heterogeneous, says Michael Fuchs. The deepest voices of all can be found in Scandinavia. "Of course we find particularly tall people there compared to other countries, but that doesn't explain the big difference," said Fuchs. Rather, the degree of emancipation is particularly high in Scandinavia. In a global comparison, German women still speak relatively deeply. In other countries like Japan, however, a high female voice is ideal. And in the USA too, women tend to speak highly, says Adina Mornell, who comes from America herself. "It is amazing how much higher American women speak than German women," she says. "That is socialization. It also has to do with the fact that women want to set themselves apart from men. That is why they speak more highly there."

Effects on the singing voice

The drop in the female speaking voice may also affect singing. After more than forty years of service, the church musician Klaus Wedel from Roth has the impression that the voices in his community are generally getting deeper. He is currently in the process of publishing new books with accompaniments for songs from the Evangelical Hymnal. He has set the notes lower than they are printed in the common hymnbook. His reason: "because it was necessary".

Male voices - often a little higher in old age

The Leipzig researcher Michael Fuchs points out that men's voices in old age - something from the age of seventy or eighty - often even get a little higher again. The reason: In boys' vocal cords, the vocal folds lengthen, for which the male sex hormone testosterone is responsible. Even if the testosterone level drops again in old age, this would no longer change the length of the vocal folds. But: "The structure of the larynx, which actually consists of cartilage, is becoming increasingly ossified. And the vocal folds are also losing their elasticity," says Fuchs. "This makes the whole system more rigid - and the voice a little higher again."

Broadcast: "Allegro"on November 23, 2017, from 6:05 a.m. BR CLASSIC.