The female population of the US is around 157 million, but only about half of this number invests in equities, compared to 56% of the male population. Investing was purposefully and by design barred to women in the past, leading to a gender investing gap that has compounded over many years. Think of the Wall Street symbol: a charging bull meant originally to represent a rising “bullish” market, but more often seen as a representation of the aggressive, chauvinistic nature of the stock market.
Many women grow up witnessing segregated gender roles around household finances and learn early on that money is a taboo topic—a belief that they (perhaps unconsciously) carry with them into their career, lifestyle, and relationships. They may have been told that talking about money is not “polite” or that investing is too hard to learn about and prioritize. All these beliefs need to be challenged and put to rest.
Fortunately, the world of investing is a lot more accepting now and anyone interested can learn about personal finance. It is easy to get started with small amounts of money, which makes it easier for women, who have historically not had the same earning opportunities as men.
A study by Ellevest analyzed a retirement scenario where a man and a woman both started saving at 30 years old, earning $85,000, and investing 10% of their salaries over the course of 37 years. By the end of 37 years, the woman would be short about $320,000 dollars.
Women are more likely to be in a situation where they need to take long career breaks, because of which women’s salaries tend to peak at age 40 as opposed to men’s salaries which peak at 55. The difference of $320,000 means that women have less money to live on even though they are likely to live longer in retirement.
Retirement needs gap
In the US, women retire for 20.6 years on average, compared with 18 years for men. This means that women need financial support for 2.6 more years than men on average after retirement. If you consider the fact that the average retired household spends more than $3,800 per month, it becomes clear that women need a bigger retirement fund. A 65-year-old woman needs to have earned, saved, and somehow increased her wealth by nearly $120,000 more than a comparable man to maintain her lifestyle.
Retail investment gap
In 2007, the median single US man aged 18–64 had wealth of $31,150, while a female in the same age group had $15,120—less than half as much.
Historically, about 60% of US men invested in stocks compared with only 40% of women. According to a 2017 Gallup survey, 56% of men and 52% of women were investing in equities. So the gap has narrowed to only four percentage points. While the gap has narrowed considerably, there is still a lot of work to be done around the gender investing gap. Here are some ways you and the women you know can benefit from equity investing:
- Educate yourself: There are many, many resources now that can help you learn about saving and investing so that you can make smart financial decisions. A great way to learn for beginners could be podcasts and books. Here’s a few recommendations:
Podcasts: So Money with Farnoosh Torabi, The Financial Confessions, Brown Ambition
Books: I Will Teach You To Be Rich, On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance, All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan, Your Money or Your Life
- Take advantage of employer matching programs: If you are currently employed and your employer offers a match on your retirement contribution, do not miss out on free money by ignoring this opportunity. It is easy to sign up if you haven’t already—most companies have an HR department that can help you with the forms and login information you need to get started.
- Write down your long- and short-term financial goals: Have you noticed that it is easier to save up for a vacation or something else you really want? That is because you have a clear goal in mind and motivation to help you save. Financial security and independence can be just as motivating, as long you write your goals down somewhere and refer to them regularly. In the short term, think about how good it would feel to get rid of that credit card float once and for all. Some long-term goals could be: saving up for a house, further education, or even retirement. Schedule regular check ins with yourself (with non-monetary rewards for motivation) to assess your goals and analyze your progress towards them.
- Recognize the emotional barrier to investing: As we alluded to earlier, there is an emotional component to saving and investing that most women ignore. Maybe you grew up in a household where it was your father’s job to “pay the bills.” Maybe you got into credit card debt to keep up with friends. It is an unfortunate fact that many people feel completely comfortable telling women how women can spend their money. Recognize when your money decisions could be coming from internalized biases that need to be left behind as you grow your financial expertise.
- Invest in companies that have the same core values: One way that you can help narrow the investment gap between genders is to vote with your money. By investing in companies that focus on female leadership and empowerment, you can change the business landscape. Additionally, do not be afraid to invest in companies that promote sustainability, as it is a growing demand in the investment world. Morgan Stanley surveyed investors in 2015 and 2017 on this topic, asking “How interested are you in sustainable investing, which is the practice of making investments in companies or funds that aim to achieve market rate financial returns while pursuing positive social and/or environmental impact?” In 2015, 78% of women said they were interested. Only two years later, that number had climbed to 84%. In 2015, 62% of men said they were interested. Two years later, that had risen to 67%.
- Diversify your portfolio: When it comes to investing and saving, women tend to be more cautious than men. More women keep their money in cash, savings accounts and money market funds that do not produce the same returns as other investment types. It is prudent to diversify your investments using investment types like equities, bonds, and real estate.
The Bottom Line
The best way to build wealth through investing is to get started as soon as possible. If you learned something that will help you on your financial journey today, be sure to send this article to someone else in your life that may benefit from this information. Pay it forward!