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Can The Pitch Of Your Voice Affect Your Income?

Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE.
Ed Schipul via Flickr, Creative Commons

A new study from Duke University says it can. Research finds that male CEOs with deeper voices make more money, manage larger firms, and have a longer tenure than those with higher pitched voices. The study follows another published last year by Duke scientists revealing that deep-voiced people are perceived to have better leadership qualities.

The paper, published online in the journal of Evolution and Human Behavior was authored by Bill Mayew and Mohan Venkatachalam of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and Chris Parsons of the University of California at San Diego, and it falls under a new field of research known as biological economics.

“About a year ago, colleagues in the biology department looked at how voice pitch affects leadership qualities,” Mayew says. “The thought was that this might transfer to leadership positions, but no one had ever investigated it in the real world…this led to the genesis of our project.”

To conduct the experiment, the researchers combed through speech samples for nearly 800 male CEOs from the Standard and Poors 1500 stock index, measuring the pitch level of each voice. They then gathered data about each CEO, including total assets managed, the CEO’s compensation, and how long the CEO had worked for their current company.

Their results revealed that deeper-voiced male CEOs manage bigger companies and make more money. For every 22.1 Hertz (Hz) a CEO’s voice decreased, their firm increased by $440 million and personal compensation increased by $187,000 per year.  If you’re wondering how much 22.1 Hz is, Mayew gives the example of actor James Earl Jones (who played the voice of Star Wars character Darth Vader) and comedian Gilbert Gottfried – their voices are 132 Hz apart. 22.1 Hz is one sixth of that difference. (If you want to compare, here’a clip of James Earl Jones reading “The Raven” and here’s a clip of Gilbert Gottfried in an Easterns Automotive Group commercial.)

According to the authors, the study is the first to look at the relationship between voice pitch and labor market success among men in the corporate leadership positions. The researchers also acknowledge that there are other factors in addition to voice pitch that contribute to the perception of a CEO.

For more information: the authors of the 2012 study looking at voice pitch and perception of leadership qualities were interviewed by Frank Stasio on WUNC’s State of Things in January. Hear the full interview here.

Laura moved from Chattanooga to Chapel Hill in 2013 to join WUNC as a web producer. She graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in the spring of 2012 and has created radio and multimedia stories for a variety of outlets, including Marketplace, Prairie Public, and Maine Public Broadcasting. When she's not out hunting stories, you can usually find her playing the fiddle.
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