It goes without saying that few of us have been left untouched by the global economic crisis. Whether it’s a lost job, lost assets, or even a change in how we view asset allocation, most of us are climbing out of this deep recession altered in some way. But a new study by AXA Equitable Life Insurance has found something else: The financial crisis has perhaps had an even more profound effect on women than men.
To be sure, discussing the problems that women investors are having in comparison to their male counterparts can be a sensitive issue. This is especially true when we focus on baby boomers. This is, after all, a generation of women that has made serious headway in almost every facet of our lives: In education, in culture, in the corporate world and in politics—think of those “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” that almost-president Hillary Clinton spoke about. So why then would these women be struggling more than men in the aftermath of the financial crisis?
The study from AXA, called Retirement in America: A Survey of Concerns and Expectations, sheds some light on this quandary. First, in the past 12 months women were less likely than men to have made changes to their stock investments. Roughly 60% of women did not make changes, versus 49% of men. Although an equal number of women and men (six in 10) think investing in equities is important for reaching their retirement goals, 60% of women said they are not confident that investing in equities is a good idea, compared to 47% of men. Additionally, 62% of women who responded to the survey said they lack confidence in their ability to invest in equities, compared to 42% of men. Compounding the problem, fewer women (16%) than men (25%) have increased their investment contributions. About half (49%) of all baby boom women have decided to delay retirement because of the market downturn. Nearly four in 10 (39%) of older baby boom women (aged 55 to 64) have also gone back to work after retiring.
Lisa D. Miller, a Syracuse-based financial planner with AXA Advisors, says that women have two primary pre-requisites before making major financial decisions or changes. First, they want to work with advisors who listen to them and who take the time to understand their concerns, goals and objectives regardless of their age or financial situation. Second they want to make informed, educated decisions. Miller says that in her experience, women are most concerned with having as much information as possible before making major decisions about their finances.
“As I talk with more and more women prospects, I am finding that those who did not have an advisor or felt that they did not have access to financial education prior to the downturn, have been slower to react to take control of their finances,” Miller said in an email response. “I have found that once these two objectives have been met, women are eager to move forward and take the necessary action to work toward both their short- and long-term financial goals.”
The struggle for women to recover lost assets goes beyond investment strategy, however. It is important to keep in mind that women are still often paid less than men. Miller also notes that women are more likely to take time away from their careers to raise a family. Both of these factors can result in decreased retirement savings during those early career years when their male counterparts are building their investment accounts, she says. Women are also more likely to be the primary care provider for their partner or aging parents later in the careers.
“This can also impact a woman's ability to systematically save for retirement, while also decreasing the potential for compounding,” Miller says.
Miller recommends that to rebuild their assets, women of all ages should start with a budget and move forward from there. When Miller and her team meet with clients they make sure they are maximizing their employee benefits. Women (as well as men) should also contribute to their defined contribution plan at least as much as the employer is willing to match. Another important factor is determining risk tolerance, Miller says. She finds that while many women will say they are conservative, this is not always indicated in their risk tolerance questionnaire.
“Some women may need to be less conservative in their investing to help increase their retirement saving,” Miller says. “If a woman’s financial situation and risk tolerance questionnaire suggest a higher risk tolerance, they should consider adjusting their investments accordingly. Younger boomers in particular may have a higher risk tolerance and can consider an investing strategy that is more aggressive if appropriate.”
A diversified asset allocation can then help mitigate risk, Miller adds. Certain vehicles to consider include stocks, mutual funds, high-quality bonds and products with guarantees like variable annuities with living benefits.