Retirement Investing: No Gender Gap in Portfolio Performance



But women say they feel less confident than men

By Stephen Miller Nov 17, 2009
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Although women rate their retirement investing skills far lower than men’s, their recent portfolio performance tells another story.

Men and women say they invest primarily to create a nest egg for retirement, within and outside of employer-provided retirement savings plans. But the majority of women investors (59 percent) consider themselves at a "beginner" skill level, vs. only 35 percent of men. In contrast, most men (56 percent) describe themselves as "intermediate."

Despite these self-estimations, a survey commissioned by investment firm Scottrade shows recent portfolio performance closed any perceived gender gap. The proportion of men's vs. women's portfolios that stayed the same or increased in value in the 12 months prior to July 2009 was the same—48 percent.

"It's great to see that women have the same investing goals and are taking the same proactive steps as men," says Chris Moloney, Scottrade's executive director of customer intelligence. "It is surprising, though, that women are not as confident as men. This discrepancy in men's and women's opinions of their own investing skills is especially notable because it doesn't reflect the reality of their portfolios' performance."

The research found that men and women make similar considerations when investing, with retirement by far being the single biggest reason to invest for men and women.

Women and men were asked, "Why do you invest?" (multiple responses allowed)

Men

Women

I am investing for my retirement.

64%

69%

To build a nest egg for my future.

50%

47%

Investing is just something I do.

25%

25%

To have an emergency/rainy day fund.

21%

24%

To reduce my amount of debt.

13%

13%

To save for family member education.

12%

16%

Men and women have reacted similarly to the current state of the economy, leading both genders to take a closer look at their financial matters.

Women and men were asked, "Given the state of the economy, which of the following are you doing now that you weren't doing before?" (multiple responses allowed)

Men

Women

Managing my own investments.

11%

11%

Ensuring accounts are diversified.

18%

16%

Doing more research.

18%

20%

Checking my account more frequently.

29%

33%

I've learned more about investing.

14%

19%

Taking advantage of good deals.

15%

11%

The majority of men and women seem to struggle with knowing what to invest in, although women clearly struggle more with understanding investing terminology—29 percent of women reported this to be a challenging aspect of investing compared with 17 percent of men.

Women and men were asked,"Which of the following, if any, do you find to be a challenging aspect of investing?" (multiple responses allowed)

Men

Women

Knowing what to invest in.

49%

53%

Having enough funds to invest.

45%

50%

Knowing when to invest.

46%

43%

Understanding the economic climate.

38%

42%

Understanding investment language.

17%

29%

Knowing where or how to research.

21%

21%


Women Want More Investing Education

The research found that despite many attitudinal and behavioral similarities, there was one key exception—women want more education about investing and financial planning.

"The good news is that in the wake of recent economic setbacks and added financial stress, women seem to be rising to their investing challenges by becoming more educated," Moloney says. The survey shows that:

32 percent of women have said that they've become more familiar with their personal financial situation since the 2008 stock market drop, vs. only 24 percent of men.

22 percent of women indicated that they have taken steps to learn more about the economy, vs. 15 percent of men.

"The economy seems to have spurred many women into action, and we are very pleased to see a trend that women are taking more of an active role in their own investments," notes Moloney. "Education and empowerment are important steps toward achieving the financial health and stability that will ultimately help people—both men and women—reach their goals and alleviate some of the stress they feel about their finances."

The study was fielded with a nationally representative sample of 1,143 respondents (627 men and 516 women) from July 15 to July 29, 2009. All participants were at least 18 years of age and were involved in making investment decisions in their households.

Gender and Investing: Another View

The gender gap emerged in the results of questionnaires filled out by some 3,500 U.S. workers for Financial Finesse Inc., a provider of financial education benefits. Among respondents who assessed their financial situation from January through April 2009: 40 percent of men but just 24 percent of women said they were confident their investments were allocated appropriately, while 73 percent of men but just 40 percent of women said they had a general knowledge of stocks, bonds and mutual funds.


Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.​

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