Are boys delayed in speech and language?

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

Many people believe that boys are more delayed than girls in terms of speech and language abilities, but is there evidence to support this? This month, we are digging deeper into the research to determine if boys are really more delayed than girls.

Our Question:

Does being a boy mean you are more likely to have speech and language delays?

The Answer:

Yes (technically)…

boys speech delay

Studies show that for every girl with a language difficulty, there are 2-3 boys with similar problems (a ratio of 2:1 - 3:1). First words and sentences often develop a few months later for boys. The same goes for understanding and being able to produce vocabulary correctly. Previous research suggests that these gender differences were most prevalent between the ages of 3-5, and that around ages 5-6 gender differences were less likely to be the cause of speech accuracy difficulties. Verbal skills are often presented as developing within an age range. Girls usually master skills closer to the beginning of the range, whereas boys attain them near the end of the range, which is still completely normal, but they are technically delayed compared to females.

Links have also been found between language delays and conditions affecting behaviour such as Autism, special education requirements or ADHD. These conditions are more prevalent in males than females which could account for language difficulties. Boys are more prone to language disorders due to their genetics. In one study by Korpilahti, Kalionen and Jansson-Verkasalo, genetics was the only biological factor leading to poor language skills. Essentially, female genes require more alterations than male genes to produce disorders affecting language. Statistically, this means that males are more likely to face language-related challenges. Lastly, girls seem to develop fine motor skills earlier than boys which could help them produce speech sounds sooner.

Delayed language abilities in boys may not be as problematic as people think though.

Just because boys tend to develop language skills later than girls, this does not necessarily mean that they are outside the appropriate range for that skill. So what should you do if you know a boy who seems delayed? Speech and language delays in boys should not just be attributed to his sex. He should still see an SLP to monitor his difficulties and progress. Some speech therapy may be needed to minimize any challenges.

You can contact us for speech and language assessments here.

Recent Studies of Interest:

  • Dodd, B., Holm, A., Zhu, H. & Crosbie, S. (2004). Phonological development: A normative study of British English-speaking children. Clinical linguistics & phonetics. 17. 617-43. 10.1080/0269920031000111348.

  • Henrichs, J., Rescorla, L., Donkersloot, C., Schenk, J. J., Raat, H., Jaddoe, V. W. V., ...Tiemeier, H. (2013). Early vocabulary delay and behavioral/emotional problems in early childhood: the generation R study. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56(2), 553+. Retrieved from

  • Korpilahti, P., Kaljonen, A., & Jansson-Verkasalo, E. (2016). Identification of biological and environmental risk factors for language delay: The let's talk STEPS study.Infant Behavior and Development, 42(Complete), 27-35. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2015.08.008

  • Wellman, B., Case, I., Mengert, I. And Bradbury, D., 1931, Speech sounds of young children. University of Iowa study, Child Welfare, 5(2).

Other resources for more information:




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