Gender financial stereotypes abound. Women are risk-averse—to their detriment! Overconfident men trade more—to their detriment!

We’ve tracked the retirement savings behavior of Vanguard participants since 2000 and have seen consistent trends over this time period. In The gendernomics of retirement saving, we highlight some of the gender differences observed in our recordkeeping data of more than 3 million plan participants.

Right away, women demonstrate an inclination toward savings—they’re 10% more likely to enroll in their workplace saving plans than men. And once enrolled, women across all income levels save at rates anywhere from 6% to 12% higher than those of their male counterparts.

Another behavioral difference: Women are more likely than men to adopt professionally managed allocations.


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In other words, women are more likely than men to turn the portfolio construction task over to an investment professional. Notably, our research shows that participants using professionally managed allocations have better portfolio outcomes than the do-it-yourself crowd.

Now, here’s a curveball. While women may be better savers and investors, men have larger account balances. The average account balance of our male participants is $121,000, more than 50% higher than those of female participants, whose average account balance is $78,000.

Why is this? Put simply, wages help determine how much people save. The average wage for our male participants runs about 40% higher than women’s, with men’s wages averaging $107,000, while the average wage for our female participants is $77,000.

A more nuanced picture emerges when you compare account balances for women and men by income bands.

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When we take these income bands into consideration, we find that the account balances of men and women tend to converge. However, at the highest income band men still have higher account balances than women—suggesting that men’s wages are also higher.

But there are plenty of gender financial stereotypes, and our data suggest that women and men may behave differently when it comes to retirement-plan savings. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that, within both genders, some participants are doing better than others. In the end, participants are people, and both women and men display a broad array of distinct retirement-plan saving behaviors.

If there is one thing I am certain of, however, it’s this: Both women and men would be better off with higher savings rates and more use of professionally managed allocations.


Note: All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.