Of gender differences in text messaging

text message length Last night’s BayCHI had three fascinating talks on mobile phone usage. Here are my notes from the first talk which was an entertaining discussion of findings from a research project on mobile phones and culture (I hope to post notes from the other talks shortly). SImeon Yates from the Sheffield Hallam University (I reveal my geographic ignorance by mentioning that I had to look up the UK map to find out where that is) described a study on gender differences in text messaging.

The most interesting finding was the length and content of messages based on gender of sender and recipient. This graph (showing number of characters in text messages) about sums it up (graph and example messages are shamelessly borrowed from Simeon’s talk).

Average length of text messages based on Sender & Recipient gender
Men to women: 74
Women to men: 80
Women to women: 82
Men to men: 60

Men write short notes to each other, but are more verbose when talking to women. Women write longer messages to everyone, though messages to women are longer than to men. Simeon also gave some examples of messages:

Women to women messages:

ff436 Hi “name” how r u? Hows uni? Have u got your results yet? How did u do? We get ours next wed. Take care luv “name” xx
ff456 Hi “name” hope ur havin fun makin pancakes. If u want 2 o monsters inc we r goin 2moro. My housemates r callin me coz they want 2 leave but im not ready! Luv H.

Men to men
mm32334 In headingley r u at home? Tripod srorry I’m late.
mm32434 phoned matthew

Women’s messages have a beginning, an end, and sometimes multile threads within. Men’s messages are much shorter and around a single issue.

(This fits in entirely with my own experience. My women friends write me long, affectionate messages. And I reciprocate in kind. My male friends write me relatively shorter messages about particular things – maybe scheduling meeting up. And when I write back to them, I have to edit myself so as not to write a long reply to a short message. But I really dont like ending messages without a “Bye” or something.)

As regards the content of messages, Simeon found that male messages have more “sarcasam” (male = 4.00; female = 1.00) and “swearing” (male=6; female:1), while women’s messages have more “support” (male: 13; female28), and “affection” (male: 17; female:48).

Most of the messages of “support” and “affection” are from women to women. Most of the “sexual humor” is from men to women (which women then forward to their women friends with messages like: “See what he sent me now!”). Most of the “swearing” is in male to male communication.

Another interesting finding was that a high percentage of people (83%) are likely to accept a call when with someone else. Interestingly people are more concerned about accepting a call when with a man (43%), than when in the company of a woman (3%)! This difference was surprising to me. I think my accepting a call when in the company of another person is fairly nuanced and I don’t feel like I have any general rules. Nor have I observed any particular pattern related to gender in the behavior of others.

Simeon also found that when talking about cell phone usage, people are able to articulate complex patterns of face and interaction management. For example, text messaging is often used to be “private when in public”. So a man might send a message to a woman, rather than make a call.

Although the talk was based on research done in the UK, I felt as if the findings reflected some of what I have observed both within myself and people around me. I often feel as if mobile phones are very expressive devices allowing us to express pretty complex social behaviors and individual temperament and patterns of communication. I am also fascinated by the differences in mobile phone usage between India and USA – the two countries I know best. For example, my 23 year old cousin and friends are always bluetoothing ringtones and videos to each other. Also, for her and many of her friends, the mobile phone is one of the first really personal technological device (most of them don’t have their own computers). Though personal cameras and music players are also becoming common.

4 thoughts on “Of gender differences in text messaging

  1. Very interesting indeed! This underlines much of the clichés of men and women..
    Btw: the image is broken and instead of “Men to women: 60” it should be “Men to men: 60”.

  2. welll there are different reasons why women send long messages… one of my friends told me she sent longer messages so that she could convey more per message, especially with her friends out of town ( where texting costs more per message). I find men dont ask different questions in the same message … ie different topics … they make a conversation more personal and direct, rather thank asking about you, your job, your family and your dog in the same message .. now if i got such a message i wouldnt know if the person was really asking if she was concerned about each of them or was she just ” getting more” into each message. i dont think all long messages are affectionate. some are long because the person messaging is plain miserly.

    ( Senior Designer)

  3. Hey I have been looking for the link to the Yates article all night and can’t find it! Is the study published in a journal or on the net anywhere? It would be really helpful to read in preparation for my own study on gender differences in texting! If you could get back to me asap that would be awesome! charski_please@hotmail.com x

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