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Estimating the Prevalence of Gender-Biased Language in Undergraduates’ Everyday Speech

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Research has shown that language can be gender-biased; however, little research has investigated the prevalence of this bias in everyday speech. Using recordings sampled from undergraduates’ daily conversations, we investigated two forms of gender bias: paternalism through use of the infantilizing label girl to refer to women and androcentrism through a tendency to use more masculine (e.g., man, guy) than feminine (e.g., girl, woman) labels in everyday speech. U.S. participants (n = 175) wore the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), a device that recorded sound samples from their environments for 30 s every 12.5 min, for up to 4 days. Verbatim transcripts were then analyzed for instances of commonly used labels for females and males (e.g., girl, woman, boy, man). Results indicated that the label girl surpassed all other labels for women, as well as boy labels for men. We also found evidence of a masculine-label bias: Participants used masculine labels more frequently than feminine labels overall. These findings indicate the need for future research to investigate the potential consequences of infantilizing and androcentric language as well as the need for teachers, professors, clinicians, and practitioners of all types to be mindful of how their speech may include, exclude, or infantilize people based on gender.

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We thank Chelsea McGhee and Janie Johnson for their assistance coding the data.

Portions of the present research were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Psychological Association in Ottawa, Ontario, June 2015. Research data and materials are available upon request from the first author.

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Correspondence to Heather J. MacArthur.

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This research was conducted using pre-existing audio files and therefore is not considered “human subjects” research. Accordingly, informed consent was not required for the present study, but was obtained prior to collection of the original data on which this research is based. There are no potential conflicts of interest to report.

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MacArthur, H.J., Cundiff, J.L. & Mehl, M.R. Estimating the Prevalence of Gender-Biased Language in Undergraduates’ Everyday Speech. Sex Roles 82, 81–93 (2020).

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