Much has been written about the risk tolerance of men and women, from running yellow lights to investing in risky assets. Four U.K.-based academics from the University of Reading’s Henley Business School were able to test ideas against a database containing more than half a million clients’ demographic information and attitudes to risk (ATR). This allowed them to account for explanatory factors such as age, financial experience, wealth, marital status and employment—in addition to gender—in evaluating ATR.
The paper found that men have a higher risk tolerance (mean ATR score of 5.569 versus 5.055 for women), and that women’s overall lower level of investment experience is the most important factor in explaining gender difference (accounting for around 36%, compared to 7% for employment status). Risk tolerance increased with investment experience both for men and women. The level of investment experience was self-assessed and the authors note that, in other domains, men have been known to exaggerate their knowledge.
The authors were also able to measure the impact of advice on clients’ ATR: women were more likely than men to adjust their tolerance after a discussion with a financial advisor, whether the women were risk takers or risk averse going in.
Finally, the data allowed the authors to examine how married, heterosexual couples made decisions when meeting with a financial advisor. In cases where their ATRs differed, wives and husbands “win” (i.e., their joint ATR becomes closer to their individual ATRs) roughly equally. However, the authors found that when the woman is more of a risk-taker, she is far likelier to accept less risky investments than in couples where the husband is more of a risk-taker.
The researchers say women need to be “more forceful” in meetings with financial advisors when their spouse is present to ensure “joint financial products match their risk preferences to the same degree as those of their husbands.” Further, “advisors need to be cognisant of this potential outcome, to always conduct the session in a manner as to ensure that both parties have an equal chance to affect the final investment product selection, and to counteract socially induced forms of behaviour where women are more passive in negotiations.”