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Study: Women with creaky voices — also known as ‘vocal fry’ — deemed less hireable

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Some people speak in a creaky voice because they can’t help it. Speaking with a creaky voice – also known as a “vocal fry” or “glottalization” – has been considered a disorder.

A few years ago, researchers at Long Island University and elsewhere noted that increasing numbers of people, particularly young women whose voices were perfectly normal were starting to talk that way as well.

You know it when you hear it.

Some commentators have said they hear it increasingly in voices on NPR, perhaps in imitation of Ira Glass, host of “This American Life.” Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian and Zooey Deschanel are other famous fryers.

A new study published in the journal PLoS ONE suggests affecting a creaky voice may undermine young women’s success in the job market.

The study — conducted by Duke University researchers Rindy C. Anderson, Casey A. Klofstad, William J. Mayew and Mohan Venkatachalam — was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation with additional funding from Duke University and the Fuqua School of Business.

The researchers recorded seven women between the ages of 19 and 27 and seven men aged 20 to 30 saying “thank you for considering me for this opportunity” in both their normal tone of voice and in vocal fry. Eight-hundred participants then listened to the recordings online and rated how competent, trustworthy, educated and attractive the voices sounded to them — and how willing they’d be to hire each person.

A woman with vocal fry (Courtesy of Anderson RC, Klofstad CA, Mayew WJ, Venkatachalam M Via PLoS ONE)

The same woman talking in her regular voice (Courtesy of Anderson RC, Klofstad CA, Mayew WJ, Venkatachalam M Via PLoS ONE)

Attractiveness was included with the other characteristics an employer might consider because some have argued that women use vocal fry to obtain the benefits of low-pitched speech generally associated with males, such as perceptions of social dominance and leadership capacity while retaining their femininity.

The results showed women, more so than men, are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive and less hireable when they use vocal fry. The negative perceptions of women who use vocal fry are even stronger when the listener is also a woman. “Collectively, these results suggest young American women should avoid vocal fry in order to maximize labor market perceptions, particularly when being interviewed by another woman,” the researchers concluded.

The study offered no advice to women with voices are naturally creaky.

The difference between male and female wasn’t significant when it came to attractiveness, which was perceived negatively in both sexes and by both sexes. The researchers said one explanation might be that people prefer voices that sound normal, citing a study that shows male and female voices are judged by men and women as more attractive the closer they are in pitch and timbre to the mean of a sample of voices.

The researchers also found older participants — the oldest being 33 — perceived vocal fry more negatively when asked to judge competence than younger listeners, the youngest being 18. “Understanding precisely why older listeners are more critical of vocal fry is an important aim for future research,” the researchers said.

If vocal fry grates on the ear, why is it a growing trend? “One explanation for this pattern is that vocal fry incurs social benefits that do not transfer to the labor market,” the researchers surmised. “For example, there may be social acceptance benefits to females to conforming to an increasingly common peer group affectation. Nonetheless, whether such behavior is conscious or unconscious, the results here suggest speakers should undertake conscious effort to avoid vocal fry in labor market settings.”