Survey: Less Than Half of Women in U.S. Invest in the Stock Market

Just 48% of women currently invest in the stock market, compared to 66% of men, according to a NerdWallet survey.
Erin El IssaSep 1, 2021

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Women tend to live longer and earn less than men, increasing their need to put money away for the future. Saving toward a long-term goal is great, but investing can make your money grow over time. And while more than half of Americans (56%) say they currently invest in the stock market, this is only true for 48% of women, compared to 66% of men, according to a new NerdWallet survey.

In the NerdWallet survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults — among whom 1,004 currently invest in the stock market and are referred to as “investors” throughout — conducted online by The Harris Poll, we asked men and women how they learned about investing and what emotions come up when they think about investing. We also examined perceived advantages and disadvantages that women have compared to men when it comes to investing for the long term.

Key findings

  • Women are more likely to delegate the management of their portfolio: About two-thirds of women investors (66%) say someone else manages at least some of their investments in the stock market, compared to just over half of men investors (55%).

  • Women are less likely than men to have learned about investments: According to the survey, 69% of women say they’ve learned how to choose investments, compared to 83% of men.

  • Anxiety, confusion are more prevalent emotions in women than men when thinking about investing: The survey shows that women are more likely than men to say they feel anxious (29% vs. 22%) or confused (23% vs. 17%) when thinking about investing. On the flip side, men are much more likely than women to report feeling confident (41% vs. 22%).

  • Americans believe women have both disadvantages and advantages over men when it comes to long-term investing: Half of Americans (50%) believe that women have disadvantages compared to men when investing long term, but about the same amount (52%) believe women have investing advantages over men.

Women are less likely to manage their own investments

Three in 5 investors (60%) say someone else manages their investments, but this is more common among women than men, according to the survey. Two-thirds of women investors (66%) say someone else manages their investments, compared to 55% of men who invest.

Because some investors may have multiple investment accounts — say a 401(k) and IRA — there could be overlap in those who say someone else manages their investments and those who say they manage their own investments. According to the survey, 58% of investors manage their own investments, with women less likely to say this than men (51% vs. 64%).

We also asked Americans with and without financial advisors if they care about the gender of an advisor. According to the survey, 60% of Americans don’t have a financial advisor and 40% do. Most of those with an advisor (68%) had no preference about the gender of their advisor. But millennials (ages 25-40) with advisors are more likely than Gen Xers (ages 41-56) or baby boomers (ages 57-75) with financial advisors to have specifically chosen a female advisor (39%, vs. 17% and 5%).

What you can do: Not everyone wants or needs a financial advisor, but if you’re interested, there are different options based on your life stage and budget. A robo-advisor uses computer algorithms to manage your investments based on your risk tolerance and how much time you have to invest. Costs are typically low and you can start with a small amount of money.

On the other hand, human financial advisors — whom you meet with either online or in person — are more expensive and may require more money to get started, but many provide full-service financial planning, which may be useful if you have a complex money situation. If you go this route, you can start interviewing potential planners with these 10 questions to ask financial advisors.

"It's important to find a reputable and knowledgeable advisor who you can trust and will look after your best interest,” says Tiffany Lam-Balfour, an investing and retirement specialist at NerdWallet. “Working with an advisor means you'll be sharing your personal financial situation and life goals, so you need to feel comfortable. Interviewing several prospective advisors can help you figure out which one fits best with you."

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About 7 in 10 women learned how to choose investments

Three-quarters of Americans (75%) say they’ve learned how to choose investments, but there’s a gender gap here as well. More than 4 in 5 men (83%) say they’ve learned about investments, compared to 69% of women. Some in the know are self-taught, while others learned from a financial advisor, spouse or teacher.

Those with higher household incomes are more likely to have learned how to choose investments than those making less. More than 9 in 10 Americans with a household income of $100,000 or more (91%) say they learned about investments, compared to just 59% of those with a household income below $50,000.

The youngest generation of adults — Generation Z (ages 18-24) — are more likely than their older counterparts to say they learned how to choose investments from their parents (32%, compared to 19% of millennials, 12% of Xers and 10% of baby boomers). This may indicate that the subject of money is becoming less taboo in the home and younger Americans are learning the importance of investing for the long term earlier than other generations.

What you can do: Most toddlers probably don’t need to know how to build an investment portfolio, but teaching children about money — and yes, investing — early can help them build healthy financial habits and give them a good foundation for managing their own money when it’s time to do so. Knowing about the learning disparities that exist can help people be mindful about not unintentionally doling out those financial lessons unevenly based on gender.

"Often girls are taught more about budgeting whereas boys are taught more about investing. Making sure to expose girls to the same financial topics as boys can help put girls on a more level playing field,” Lam-Balfour says. “There are many ways to help children learn about investing. Playing family games such as Monopoly or Life can lead to financial discussions in a fun way. Creating a mock investment portfolio can teach about the market without the risk of losing money."

If you think your kids are ready to start learning about the stock market in a more hands-on way, you can open a brokerage account for your child. And for those children with earned income, a custodial Roth IRA can be opened at any age.

Women tend to be less confident, more anxious than men about investing

Emotions around money and investing can be fraught, and the survey found differences in how men and women feel when thinking about investing. While men are more likely to feel confident than women (41% vs. 22%), women are more likely to say they feel anxious than men (29% vs. 22%).

What you can do: Building confidence around investing may take some time, but with the right resources, it doesn’t have to be a difficult or time-consuming endeavor. The earlier you learn how to start investing, the more time your money has to grow.

"It's easy to put off something when you feel less confident or anxious, but with investing, time really is money,” Lam-Balfour says. “And there are plenty of ways to get started, as well as people and places to turn to for help so it's not all just on you."

Free financial advice is abundant, and it should be approached with a dose of healthy skepticism — not every investing TikTok is a winner. But legitimate resources, like money tools and educational content from your bank or broker, can help you learn more about investing and reach your goals.

Americans perceive investing advantages, disadvantages for women

There are systemic issues working against women that could impact their ability to invest, including the gender wage gap and potential career interruptions associated with caregiving responsibilities. Yet only half of Americans (50%) believe women have disadvantages compared to men when investing for the long term, while another third (33%) don’t think there are disadvantages and the remaining 17% aren’t sure.

Men and women mostly answered this question the same, although when it comes to women earning less and therefore having less to invest, 28% of women see this as a disadvantage, compared to just 18% of men.

On the other hand, more than half of Americans (52%) identified advantages that women have over men when it comes to long-term investing. For example, 22% of Americans say women are more likely to listen to investing advice than men, and the same proportion (22%) say women are less likely to make risky investments than men.

What you can do: Women may have certain advantages when it comes to investing, but the disadvantages often outweigh those, and have been amplified for many women by the pandemic. In fact, according to an analysis for Newsweek, leaving the workforce — whether due to a layoff or lack of child care or in-person school due to COVID — could cost women hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes in lost wages, wage growth and retirement benefits.

Depending on your situation, investing as much as you did pre-pandemic may be impossible. That said, if you can put anything aside consistently instead of opting out of investing, it’s a good idea to do so. For those not currently in the workforce who are married, a spousal IRA allows you to save for retirement even if your spouse is the only one with earned income, as long as you file taxes jointly. Regardless of your marital status, if you share finances with someone, you can also contribute to a taxable brokerage account in your own name.

If you haven’t been financially impacted by the pandemic, but haven’t begun to invest due to risk aversion or lack of investing knowledge, the best thing you can do is just start. While ideally you want to choose low-cost, well-diversified investments — particularly for your retirement fund — you don’t need to know everything before you begin. Check out our guide on investments for beginners to help you get started. Ultimately, the best thing you can give your investments is time to grow, so the earlier you begin, the better.

"There are ways to start investing that can make it less daunting — investing platforms with low or no account minimums, automating contributions or hiring professional management at low cost,” says Lam-Balfour. “And remember, nothing is set in stone. You can always transfer your account or find a new advisor if something isn't working right for you.”

Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from July 26-28, 2021, among 2,074 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Chloe Wallach at [email protected].

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