By Kelli B. Grant
Want to know the secret to successful investing during turbulent times? Talk to a woman. Just don’t ask her for retirement advice.
A number of recent studies reinforce the idea that women are superior investors. Earlier this summer, a Barclays Capital and Ledbury Research study found that women are more likely to make money in the market because they take fewer risks. Last week, a Merrill Lynch survey found that men speak with their financial adviser more frequently than women do, a difference that researchers attributed to women’s more thoughtful investment approach. And a survey of investment site Betterment.com users found that men were twice as likely to have withdrawn all their money from the market during last week’s volatility. “Women are more the set-it-and-forget-it investor,” says Betterment.com chief executive Jonathan Stein.
But that laid-back approach might actually be a bit too relaxed. In Cosmopolitan magazine’s 2011 “Great Female Survey,” only 14% of women said they have a retirement plan and are actively saving money for retirement. A whopping 46% said they haven’t even thought about retirement and 9% said they “have a plan, but [are] not ready to start saving money.” Maybe that’s because more than 60% of women surveyed expect to need $1 million or less to retire comfortably. (News flash, ladies: you’ll almost certainly need more than that, depending on when you plan to retire and how much you expect to spend. Check out our retirement planner to see how much you’ll actually need.)
If inertia is both benefit and downfall for women, the male disadvantage is testosterone, which studies have shown leads to more risk-taking, says Frank Murtha, a managing partner at Market Psych, LLC, a financial psychology consulting firm. “Men tend to invest more of their ego and their emotions,” he says, and many are looking to “get back at” the market for their losses in 2008. But seeking revenge on an inanimate object rarely works in your favor. “Any time you find yourself serving your own emotional needs rather than serving the needs of your finances, it’s a bad situation,” Murtha says.
Investors should take a tip from women and think more about how ongoing market ups and downs fit into their long-term plan and the economic big picture. “It’s essential that people recognize that even though this past week was extremely volatile, this is far from over,” Murtha says. Male and female investors can also benefit from using tools like an automatic rebalance to buy and sell as needed — no more, and no less, Stein says.