Uh, What? Study Shows Um, Big Difference in Filler Word Usage Between Men and Women

So uh, when it comes to the um, filler words that men and women use, there are some uh, pretty big differences, according to a UPenn professor.

Mark Liberman, who teachers linguistics at Penn, took a look at two data sets from the school’s Linguistic Data Consortium which contains audio samples from 11,972 speakers. According to his studies, women use “um” about 22% more than men while men say “uh” a whopping 250% more than women.

The research also shows that men use filler words (um and uh) in general about 38% more than women.

The study also breaks down the differences in the usage of filler words when it comes to gender interaction. According to Liberman's research, men use “uh” about 14% less often when talking with women compared to when they talk to men. Women, meanwhile, use “uh” about 20% more when talking with men compared to women.

There’s a bit less disparity when it comes to “um.” Liberman’s research shows that men use “um” about 8% more often when talking to women compared to men. Women use “um” about 1% less often when talking with a man than with other women.

Finally, according to Liberman’s research, both men and women use less filler words in general as they grow older.

So what does it all mean? Liberman admits he’s not quite sure at this point.

“Are the sex effects due to functional, iconic, or physiological differences between UM and UH, or are they arbitrary gender markers?” he asks. “Do the age effects reflect a change in progress, or a life-cycle effect (e.g. due to changes in sex hormone levels)?”

You can view Liberman’s entire blog here.

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