Monday, 13 March 2017

Margaret Thatcher's Voice in a Man's World of Politics

"What Britain needs is an iron lady."
Margaret Thatcher

According to research findings, voters tend to prefer lower-pitched voices who they rate higher for leadership potential, dominance, intelligence, and attractiveness. In a study, a sample of 125 people (61 women and 64 men) listened to nine US presidents and judged higher and lower pitched versions of their voices. The results: 67% of the time, they voted for the deeper tones. The conclusion: Men with lower pitched voices have an advantage (via and via). In another study, 800 volunteers were asked to complete online questionnaires in which they were asked about preferences towards hypothetical political candidates aged between 30 and 70. Results and correlations: Most people favoured candidates whose ages ranged from 40 to 60, the age range most people's voices reach their lowest pitch. In the second part of the study, 400 men and 403 women were asked to listen to pairs of recordings of the phrase "I urge you to vote for me this November.", once spoken at a higher pitch, once at a lower pitch. Participants were asked which version sounded more competent and who they would rather vote for in an election. A clear majority voted for the deeper-voiced candidate in the mock election (via). A study of all 435 U.S. House elections in 2012 showed that voice pitch correlated with electoral outcomes as both male and female candidates with lower voices significantly more likely to win (via).

Margaret Hilda Thatcher (1925-2013), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, was the first woman to have held the office or - according to Glenda Jackson - not the first woman but the the first Prime Minister of female gender ("The first Prime Minister of female gender, OK. But a woman? Not on my terms." Glenda Jackson). She was also the woman to be advised to lower her tone to win the election in 1979 (via). Thatcher started taking lessons with a speech coach at the Royal National Theatre which made her lower her pitch and develop a calmer and more authoritative tone (via and via and via).
“Soon the hectoring tones of the housewife gave way to softer notes and a smoothness that seldom cracked except under extreme provocation on the floor of the House of Commons.”
Charles Moore
Trivia: A few months ago, the Victoria and Albert Museum discovered two throat lozenges in the pockets of one of Thatcher's old suits while preparing a collection of her outfits to go on display. The lozenges were probably taken to soothe her voice (via).

"People with lower voices may have an edge in elections for positions of leadership, but do people with lower voices actually make better leaders? On the one hand, if individuals with higher testosterone levels (as demonstrated by their deeper voices) are more aggressive, both physically and socially, a leader with a lower voice might be a more forceful advocate on behalf of his or her constituents. On the other hand, given that political conflict in modern times arises from a clash of complex ideologies at least as often as from contests of physical dominance, individuals with more testosterone and lower voices may be overly aggressive and less adept at cooperation. Perhaps our predilection for certain voice characteristics did yield better leadership at some point in our distant past, and it is possible that such predilections continue to serve us well in selecting good leaders. But it is also possible that an unconscious bias for lower voices causes us to vote against our best interests in today’s increasingly interdependent world."
Klofstad, Nowicki & Anderson (2016)

"I owe nothing to Women's Lib."
Margaret Thatcher

"It was years ago during a late-night student debate when a female friend suggested I was losing the argument as my voice had become too high. I can't remember for the life of me what the argument was about, but I do remember my feminist fury as I pointed out that I was always going to lose against my (male) opponent if that was how we were being judged. It all ended in tears with my friend hiding in the loo. As I said, it was late at night."
Jane Martinson

::: Voice analysis of Margaret Thatcher (ca. 2 minutes): WATCH/LISTEN

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photographs via and via


  1. Nice read, thanks!

  2. Interesting! Thanks for the share.

  3. Thank you so much for your wonderful comments, Karen, Kenneth and Derek!