Personal Finance > Investing

Women and their Money
Ten years after MONEY's first ground-breaking study on women and investing, here's another look.
May 13, 2002: 5:50 PM EDT
By Jean Sherman Chatzky, MONEY Magazine

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - The last decade has witnessed nothing short of a personal-finance revolution. In April 1992 the Dow was at 3,300, and Americans had stashed $410 billion in their 401(k)s. Today, the Dow hovers over 10,000 and there is $1.8 trillion in 401(k)s.

There are more than 100 Web sites devoted to personal finance, not to mention eight personal-finance magazines and three cable-television channels that cover the financial markets.

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Some 80 million people now own individual stocks, compared with 60 million a decade ago.

But how much of an effect has this financial revolution had on women -- the investors who had furthest to go?

Women: Then and now

That was the question we set out to answer when, together with OppenheimerFunds, we repeated a ground-breaking piece of research first published in MONEY 10 years ago: a survey of more than 1,000 women and men about their finances and financial attitudes. (You can log your responses to three of the survey questions by clicking here.)

Back in 1992, the first MONEY/OppenheimerFunds Women and Investing Survey focused on determining how women were faring financially. How knowledgeable were we about money? How comfortable were we managing it? How actively were we saving and investing?

Ten years ago, the results were discouraging: 62 percent of the women we surveyed couldn't tell us how a mutual fund worked. Only half were involved in their families' investment decisions.

Today nearly 80 percent of the women in our study, married or single, say they're more knowledgeable about investing than they were just five years ago. More than half the women we surveyed know how mutual funds work. Some 63 percent are involved in their family's investment decisions; 83 percent are involved in saving and investing for retirement.

Barbara Stanny, author of "Prince Charming Isn't Coming" and the soon-to-be-published "Secrets of Six Figure Women" has been leading investment seminars for women since 1998. She notes that at her sessions she sees "women pouring themselves into investing. Women are hungry for it."

The bigger question, however, is whether that hunger for knowledge has translated into better-fed portfolios. As the 2002 Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute showed, only 14 percent of women have $100,000 or more socked away for retirement vs. 21 percent of men. In other words, the big payoff hasn't come yet.

"It's common wisdom now that women get it -- they're responsible," says OppenheimerFunds' Rob Densen, who spearheaded the 1992 survey as well as this one. But knowledge and motivation won't buy you a cup of coffee in retirement. For that, you need some dough. Densen continues: "It's kind of like, We've come a long way, baby -- but where are we?"

But women are not just more focused on their money; they've also emerged as being decidedly smart about managing it. And while that may not yet have translated into bigger portfolios, it looks like it probably will.

Here are the highlights of our findings.

Financial assurance is an asset thing, not a gender thing

By far, the most promising thread running through our research was the degree to which a jump in net worth translated into more financial knowledge and confidence, regardless of gender. For example, when asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best) regarding how well they're managing their money, women gave themselves a median score of 7, as did men.

But women with a household net worth of $100,000 or more gave themselves an 8 -- as did men with the same assets. And when asked whether they'd taken the necessary steps to prepare for retirement, three out of five men and women answered affirmatively. But four out of five women with portfolios greater than $100,000 said that they had -- and affluent men followed that pattern.

Similarly, six-figure women were nearly twice as likely to know how a mutual fund works, and significantly more likely to say they enjoy investing than women with less than $100,000. "I enjoy managing my money because it means that my family has more choices," acknowledges Diane Goldstein, 35, who works for Ethicon, an offshoot of Johnson & Johnson, and runs a six-figure portfolio at home. "It doesn't feel like work."

Women are more turned on by achieving goals than by the idea of getting rich

Rather than thinking purely in terms of amassing wealth -- that old "whoever dies with the most toys wins" philosophy -- women are more likely to be concerned with meeting life goals. Women, notes Rosalind Lewis, a 43-year-old mother of three teenagers, are much more likely to focus on how much money they need rather than on the mass quantity they aspire to have. "All I can think about is that I have three kids who are going to be in college at the same time," says Lewis, who just left a 20-year management career at Allstate Insurance. "My goal is simply to figure out how we're going to get them through."

Interestingly enough, women's goals don't need to be specific to get them moving. Diane Goldstein, for instance, started investing when she was 19 because, she said, she wanted options. "At that age, you don't know if you want to go to France or to Pittsburgh," she recalls. "And it's okay not to know. But the more money you have, the more things you can reasonably do."

Twenty-year-old Kate MacDonald echoed her sentiments. An engineering student at the University of Cincinnati, she lived on her own last year but moved back home in November to save money. "I want to build equity in something. I moved back to save enough to get a first-time-buyer's loan." The living arrangement is far from optimal, but MacDonald says the discomfort is worth it. "Right now everything I spend is deducted from somewhere else [in the budget]. So I'm very frugal. I try to think about where I want to be long term."

What was risk-averse yesterday is sensible today

Such a forward-thinking stance makes women less likely to take unnecessary financial risks than our male counterparts. More than half of male investors admit that they've bought stock on a tip from a friend, relative or co-worker, compared with about one-third of female investors. And while 29 percent of those men say they purchased a high-tech or Internet stock sometime over the past three years that lost half its value by the time they sold it, only 20 percent of the women cop to that behavior.

Notes OppenheimerFunds' Densen: "Ten years ago, women were derisively called risk-averse. I like to think of them as sensible." This derision lasted through the stock market bubble of the late '90s, when women were exhorted to become more aggressive. Yet, at the same time, studies of investors' long-term performance showed that, if women invested at all, their portfolios' growth tended to edge past men's -- simply because they were more inclined to stick with their choices.

Glynnis Reinhart, 40, a physical therapist currently studying to be a financial adviser, is a poster child for the value of caution. She watched her father-in-law invest $50,000 in an expedition to raise a sunken treasure ship off the coast of South America 10 years ago, only to receive six cannonballs in return. At the same time, she and her husband, an orthopedic surgeon, were struggling under the weight of his student loans. As a result, Reinhart says, she'll never veer from her Steady Eddie investing behavior: "I can handle mutual funds -- low-risk, medium-risk, even high-risk funds. But I'm not that much of a risk-taker; I'm too sore a loser."

Women still think brokers treat them badly

One hitch in women's progress is that they still feel put-upon by the financial services industry. It's not that corporate HQs around the country aren't trying. OppenheimerFunds' Densen points out that, 10 years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find a financial services firm that catered to women. Today it's tough to find one that doesn't have a women's program.

Yet women and men concur that women are still financial second-class citizens: Only 27 percent of the women and 31 percent of the men we polled believe that women receive equal treatment from stockbrokers and financial planners. Although the number of men who think women are treated equally grew substantially since 1992, the number of women who think so didn't budge.

When MONEY editors sat down with a group of women in Cincinnati, to discuss financial issues. When asked how they were treated by brokers and the rest of the financial industry, the women answered in concert, "Stupid."

One of the women, Abby Weiss, 58, worked as a receptionist at a car dealership when she got out of college nearly 40 years ago, and she recalls that when a woman walked in, the entirely male sales staff would flip a coin. Whoever lost waited on the woman. "In 2002 it's no different," Weiss claims. "As far as my business goes, I'm treated beautifully. But with my personal accounts, my broker never paid attention to what I was saying. I think I was an annoyance to him. Finally I sent everything to another broker."

To get the courtesy and attention she wants from everyone from brokers and financial planners to car dealers, Kym Lew Nelson, 44, flashes her credentials: 19 years at Procter & Gamble -- which everyone in town calls Procter & God -- and degrees from Harvard and Stanford. Salespeople kowtow at her feet. But it makes her angry, because she doesn't believe she should have to prove herself.

Freedom is the ultimate financial goal

What's the ultimate goal in all of this striving? Freedom -- to do as we please with our lives, when we please to do it. It doesn't seem surprising in this day and age that 28 percent of married women -- and 37 percent of those with a six-figure net worth -- have a special account their spouses can't touch. "Women know that they're their own last resorts," said Donna Winn.

In Cincinnati, women attached stories -- and meaning -- to the numbers. Take Kym Lew Nelson. Her mother, a widow who owned her own nightclub and stuffed money in her mattress, raised her daughter to have her own money -- and not to tell her husband. "To this day, I feel funny telling him what's in my retirement account," she says. Abby Weiss' mother wouldn't allow her to get married until she could support herself, just in case.

In fact, of our Cincinnati group, only Glynnis Reinhart had commingled all assets with her spouse, and the other attendees quickly put her on the defensive. "I'm fine with it," she says. "What I wasn't fine with was my lack of knowledge." So she learned. It's encouraging to note that in 1992, only 53 percent of women participated in buying and selling stocks, bonds and mutual funds for their families; in 1997, 61 percent did so; and in 2002, 63 percent.  Top of page