STUDY AIMS: A multi-disciplinary research team has been assembled to investigate specific gender-based speech production differences that may underlie women's elevated incidence of vocal health problems, especially in high-voice use professions. Specifically, this project will measure how speakers adjust their speech productions to compensate for environmental acoustic changes, audience requirements, and voice overuse. We will approach this problem at several levels of experimental control: (1) observations in a natural setting, (2) controlled experiments in a laboratory setting, and (3) highly controlled computer simulations. The results of these aims can be used to develop preventative and rehabilitative strategies for female occupational voice users. SIGNIFICANCE: Women have a notably higher lifetime incidence of voice disorders than men (46.3% vs. 36.9%). Regardless of the gender, occupational voice users (or members of professions that demand high voice use) are at an increased risk for vocal injury (e.g., 11% of teachers vs. 6.2% of non-teachers reported current voice problems). Unfortunately, this vocal health disparity appears to be intensified for women who work in these professions (such as teaching, counseling, or emergency dispatch). Two large populations of occupational voice users, teachers and call center workers, are primarily female (69% and 64%, respectively). While not all women in these occupations experience voice problems, these professionals face a dual risk for increased voice issues: their gender and their jobs. This problem is important to explore because, at this time, it is not precisely known why women are at higher risk than men and why some women experience vocal health issues more than others. In addition, women in these professions use the voice as a primary tool of trade, making any serious voice problems an impediment to effective performance of job functions and continued employment.

Public Health Relevance

Gender Differences and Speech Accommodation in Occupational Settings: Nearly one quarter of the U.S. workforce depends on a healthy, versatile voice as a tool for their profession. These are individuals who, were they to lose voice quality and/or vocal endurance, would not be able to perform their job effectively. These occupational voice users include professionals such as teachers, counselors, emergency dispatchers, air traffic controllers, performers and telephone workers. Women tend to have a disproportionate incidence of reported voice problems compared to men. They also make up the majority of several of these high voice-use occupations (e.g., public school teachers, call center workers). This project will increase our understanding of the gender discrepancy in vocal health issues. The goal of this project is to identify what compensatory adjustments women use in different communication environments and how these adjustments may contribute to their increased risk of voice issues. Using this information, strategies can be developed to reduce the increased incidence of women's vocal health problems.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Motor Function, Speech and Rehabilitation Study Section (MFSR)
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Shekim, Lana O
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University of Utah
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Salt Lake City
United States
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