"Women are hardwired to be conservative with money. I say bollocks."


The theory went like this: Our cave dwelling ancestors were hunter-gatherers. The men went out every few weeks to kill bison and some of them would come back – bison hunting was a dangerous business – the greater the risks , the bigger the bison they’d drag back to the cave.

Meanwhile, the women sat around digging up edible rooty things and gossiping about that flighty woman a few caves over; the biggest risk women took was being overheard by the flighty one.

But has this carried over into the way we live today? Conventional wisdom would say it has, writes Helaine Olen in The Atlantic:

Read almost any article about personal finance for women and you’ll find variations on the idea that the ladies find investing scary, intimidating and won’t take chances. It’s a “Men are from the Stock Market, Women are From the Passport Savings Account” view of life.

A study by Prudential Financial recognises that “Women focus on the family, but their risk aversion may be putting their families’ financial health at risk.” A solid majority of women, the report adds, “See themselves as savers rather than investors.”

“There’s new research emerging post GFC showing an almost equal proportion of men see themselves as savers rather than investors.”

But there’s new research emerging post GFC showing an almost equal proportion of men see themselves as savers rather than investors; so either that whole bison-hunting thing has been bred out of us, or it had nothing to do with whether or not women can be bold investors:

According to Julie Nelson, the chair of economics at the University of Massachusetts, the idea that men take more risks and women are more conservative is pervasive. It’s one of the reasons many people believe the financial crisis could have been avoided if more women were in charge of Wall Street banks. “The belief is so strong, that people don’t question it,” Nelson said.

But there are real consequences to insisting women lack the ability to take on risk. This false belief downplays the main reason women have less money in the bank than men. It’s not because they view themselves as savers rather than investors: It’s because they live economically more precarious lives than men.

So maybe we’re conservative with money simply because we have less to play around with. That makes sense, and it’s an empowering thought.

When my Pop died, Gran had no idea about their financial situation. At age 71, never written a cheque. They’d been married nearly 60 years and he’d always given her ‘housekeeping’ money, which she managed carefully – always knowing how much a pint of milk cost, putting some aside each week for Christmas. It was Pop though, who bought the shares, took out the home loan, planned their retirement.

I remember Gran saying, ‘Your grandfather was so much cleverer than me with money. He made sure I never wanted for anything.’ The inference was Pop was good with money because he was a man. But in truth, it was because of how he was educated, how he worked and ran his business.

“Gran was typical of many women of her generation – she’d never earned much money, so she assumed she was no good with it.”

If women are lacking anything, writes Nelson, it’s confidence, not smarts. Gran was typical of many women of her generation – she’d never earned much money, so she assumed she was no good with it.

Women who did earn a decent salary, however, are just as likely as men to invest boldly.

Nelson refers to a study called “Gender Differences in the Investment Decision Making Process,” published more than a decade ago. High-earning women were more likely than other women to put their money in the stock market. The issue is that women were less likely than men to be high earners in the first place.

More recently, Mariko Chang found the same thing when she quizzed men and women for her book Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It. The men  were more willing to take risk than women, not because they were men, but because they have more faith in their ability to make up any losses through their future earnings women did.

Would the Global Financial Crisis have happened if there had been a little less testosterone on Wall Street? Would Lehman Brothers have collapsed if it had been Lehman Sisters? Olen says no – they couldn’t have afforded the gamble.

Do you think men and women approach investing and saving differently?  

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