What is it about?

There are negligible anatomical differences between girls and boys that could affect their voice before reaching puberty. Thus, boys and girls should sound the same – but they do not! There are some children who sound very feminine or masculine, while others are not easy to identify. We are investigating the phonetic features that make a child sound female or male. Furthermore, we are interested to see whether there is an influence of self-ascribed gender conformity on the production and perception of masculinity and femininity. In other words: Does a child with stereotypical feminine preferences and behaviours (e.g. likes pink, plays with girls) sound particularly feminine? We made audio recordings of 60 German primary school children from the first to fourth grade (6- to 10-year-olds). We also conducted interviews about gender conformity. In addition, we conducted a listening experiment in which listeners had to judge the gender of the voices. We found out that self-reported gender conformity differs significantly between the boys and the girls. About a quarter of all children does sound very feminine or masculine. Especially the pitch of the voices has a significant effect on the perception of gender. Furthermore, there is a correlation between gender conformity and the sound of “s”.

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Why is it important?

Because this study is part of a longitudinal investigation, we can analyse how voice and speech develop in children between the ages of six and ten. Finding out which characteristics make a child's voice sound feminine or masculine could be helpful for voice therapy of children with gender dysphoria, who want to sound more female or male.


Not much is known about the perception of masculinity and femininity in children and the impact of gender conformity on children's voices. With our research we can make a contribution to this interesting topic. It's also very exciting to compare recordings of children over time and find out how they are progressing and changing.

Riccarda Funk
Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat Jena

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Acoustic and Perceptual Correlates of Gender in Children's Voices, Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, August 2023, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), DOI: 10.1044/2023_jslhr-22-00682.
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