May 24, 2023 - Economy

The gender confidence gap in investing

Share who say they're mostly or very comfortable investing self-directed retirement savings
Note: Among non-retirees with self-directed retirement savings. Data: Federal Reserve; Chart: Axios Visuals

Men are far more comfortable investing their own retirement money than women, a new Fed survey shows.

Driving the news: This is across all education levels, but the gap is widest for those with a bachelor's degree or more, per the Federal Reserve's Economic Well-Being Survey.

Which raises a couple of questions: Are men better at investing than women or do they simply believe they're better? And is a high comfort level in investing...a good thing?

Zoom out: There's copious research out there that shows a confidence gender gap when it comes to investing, as the New York Times' Jeff Sommer wrote more than a decade ago.

  • Generally speaking, men are overconfident — often to their detriment, he reported. Overconfidence translates into men trading more — often getting the timing wrong and losing money.
  • Whereas women, who are more ready to admit when they don't know something, will buy and hold.
  • “There’s been a lot of academic research suggesting that men think they know what they’re doing, even when they really don’t know what they’re doing," the head of Vanguard Investment Counseling and Research told him at the time.

The big picture: This latest data point reveals that gap is still fairly wide — and it echoes other research outside of investing.

  • A research paper from 2021 describes a gender gap in self-promotion, where women describe their abilities to employers less favorably than their male peers.

The bottom line: These are, of course, generalizations. Every investor is different, to be sure. And there are some pretty confident and comfortable women investors out there.

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