The low, creaky intonation called vocal fry—employed ubiquitously by the Kardashians and pop singers such as Kesha—might make a woman sound popular, but it can hurt her chances for getting a job, a new study found.
At least two-thirds of young women regularly use vocal fry, whose rise in popularity was noted by the Journal of Voice in 2011. They do so because they think it makes them sound superior, researcher Ikuko Patricia Yuasa found. Britney Spears was one of the first pop culture icons to adopt the vocalization in when she sang, “Oh baby, baby,” in the opening line of her 1999 single, “Baby One More Time.”
Bill Mayew of the Duke University Fuqua School of Business is an expert on the use of vocal cues in managerial communications. He noted research has found that deep voiced male CEOs tend to have better labor market outcomes and deep voiced individuals in a political setting are perceived to have higher leadership capacity. Mayew and his colleagues hypothesized that females, who have naturally higher-pitched voices, might be adopting vocal fry in an attempt to lower the pitch of their voices to move up in the labor market.
Study subjects were asked to say a sentence in a normal tone of voice and in vocal fry. Mayew then had 800 people, 400 males and 400 females, rate the speakers on characteristics such as whether they sounded trustworthy or competent and whether the rater would be willing to hire them. They rated each pair of normal and vocal fry sentences and were asked, “which do you prefer?” Overwhelmingly, vocal fry was not preferred.
“Individuals, given a pair of voices, view the one that is normal—normal tone of voice, lack of vocal fry—as being more competent, more trustworthy,” Mayew said. “That finding exists for females, and it exists for males, as well, however, the effects are more pronounced for females.”
Mayew suggests women and men refrain from using vocal fry and uptalk, a trend in which speakers end sentences in a higher tone.
“They should not increase their voice pitch or decrease it at the end of sentences, but, rather, speak in their normal tone of voice,” Mayew said.
His findings confirm that old bit of advice: Don’t be flat, don’t be sharp, just be natural.
Listen to more examples of vocal fry and reasons to avoid it on The World and Everything in It: