When it comes to money, women are more likely to save than invest despite potentially higher returns. Christobel Hastings speaks to experts about why that’s the case and how it impacts women’s financial security…
Chances are you’ve probably never really questioned your financial freedom.
You have bank accounts in your own name. You’ve likely applied for a loan. And you’ve possibly got a credit card or two, sealed with your signature.
But we don’t have to turn the clock back too far to imagine a time when women had few rights or ownership over their finances.
Until the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975, it was still legal for banks to refuse women mortgages without a male guarantor.
And despite women being admitted to the London Stock Exchange in 1973 for the first time in the institution’s 200-year history, it still took 172 years for it to happen and until 2001 for a woman to be appointed in a senior position.
These days, women no longer have to prove their marital status when making money moves.
But in a world where women have fought hard for their financial independence, one uncomfortable truth persists: there’s a gender gap when it comes to money.
We know this exists in the workplace but there is also a significant gap appearing in our financial affairs because generally women don’t tend to invest - just one in five women currently hold an investment, against 1 in 3 men.
This investment gap is concerning as it impacts women’s financial stability in later life - and, interestingly, it’s not something that’s improving with tech-savvy younger generations.
A study exploring millennials’ attitudes towards money found only 26% of women are investing, compared to 43% of men the same age.
For women the investment disparity transcends spending power and generations.
Why is that the case?
By the age of 60-64, women in the UK have an average pension wealth of £35,700 — one-quarter of the amount held by the average man, according to a study by the Chartered Insurance Institute.
This is mostly down to the gender pay gap, but because of it women are often targeted more with ‘save’ messaging than other financial products to tackle this.
Given that women are more financially independent than they’ve ever been (and clearly have more of a handle on saving than men), the question of why they don’t invest may seem perplexing.
When it comes to choosing what to do with your money, YouGov found half as many women (13%) as men (26%) believe they have a good knowledge of investments.
Historically, investment companies have been an old boys club, and many women feel isolated by the way the industry is marketed almost exclusively to men.
“Many of the women I speak to say they are put off from seeing a financial adviser because the focus is male-dominated, while others feel there’s no alternative to seeing a financial adviser. So, instead they do nothing,” says financial coach, planner and founder of The Money Panel, Catherine Morgan.
Considering women are as likely to be breadwinners and business owners as men, and often the financial decision makers for their households, investment culture now looks shockingly outdated. Holly Mackay, investment expert and founder and CEO of Boring Money, agrees.
“There’s a huge perception issue,” says Mackay. “Say the word ‘investor,’ and many women I know think of an old, entitled, plummy-toned man, rather than a mum in jeans, our sisters, or friends.
“Most women I talk to tell me investing feels like an alien world they’re not invited to join.”
This perception issue leads to an unconscious bias, both from banks towards women and women on what they think of investment.
How does it impact women?
While this perception may not seem like a pressing problem at first glance, it has a profound impact on our financial wellbeing. It seeps into loans, the products that we think are right for us and the financial decisions we make.
By avoiding private pensions, retirement incomes, and stocks and shares ISAs, most women are missing out on growing their wealth long-term. Instead, many settle for poor returns on their cash.
“Over any 10-year period since markets began, 9 times out of 10 shares have done better than cash,” reveals Mackay.
“If we expand timeframes to 18 years, you’re 99% more likely to do better in shares.”
And yet, despite the evidence, only 13% of British women have a stocks and shares ISA.
The investment gap isn’t simply about money, though; it’s inherently tied to women’s choice, freedom and security.
Given that women are still short-changed by the UK’s gender pay gap of 11.9%, they must save a greater percentage of their income than men to afford the same financial stability in retirement.
They might be impacted by the ‘motherhood penalty’ after spending time away from the workplace caring for children or elderly relatives, meaning they’ll earn on average 30% less than their male colleagues.
On top of that, women’s longer lifespans mean their money (already dented by the wage gap) must stretch further to safeguard their future.
Little wonder the Department for Work and Pensions revealed a shocking 40% gap between men and women’s pension pots.
Morgan believes that if current trends continue, the investment gap between genders is set to get worse.
“With investing, women are typically on the back foot, as they often have time out of their career to look after a family, and then again in later life to look after ageing parents,” she explains.
“This puts pressure on our earning capacity, and therefore our ability to invest.”
The upside is that through harnessing the power of the stock market, women can close the gap.
But in order to get there, women need to create a new relationship with the world of investment.
What can we do about it?
While the industry has faltered in mobilising female investors, it’s also been proven that women are more conservative when it comes to taking financial risks.
“I often see a lack of confidence and knowledge with clients who don’t consider themselves capable of investing as they have smaller amounts of money to work with,” Morgan explains.
Jessie, a 29-year-old charity worker, agrees. “Growing up, the idea of financial independence was tied to the idea of saving hard for bricks-and-mortar,” she reveals.
“Having never encountered any conversation around investing, or even seen any female investors in the public eye, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
There’s no question companies should work harder to create an inclusive financial culture, Morgan adds. There are still some barriers preventing female engagement. And all those barriers need to be broken.
“We focus on ‘investment returns and performance’”, says Morgan. “Instead, the focus should be on how it can help us to reach our goals. Not just ‘retirement goals’, but goals to maintain our lifestyle and income.
“We also need a change of focus in the industry, from one-off products and jargon to financial education and human behaviours,” she continues. “Doing this would instil more trust – if they believe that it will be totally unbiased, more women will seek financial advice.”
Clearly, things need to change.
The conversation around investment should be opened up on a peer-to-peer level to make sure everyone feels empowered to make financial choices that work harder for them.
Which is why we’ve started A Woman’s Worth Collective, a partnership between Stylist and NatWest that creates a space for all women to join, talk openly about their finances and learn more from like-minded people. We want to hear from you about what you think about investing and what you think could be better so that we can start to close the gap.
Beyond discussion, there are other practical steps women can take to unlock their investment potential, too.
“Invest in courses and read books on the subject,” recommends Morgan. “Then start small with a pre-constructed portfolio, or use the tools made available to you by companies.
Signing up to an online investment platform with lower-level entry points such as NatWest Invest, where you can start with £50 a month and find information easily about your fund options, is a good place to start with a trusted bank.
“Investing can be a carefully considered decision based on investing for a specific intention with the level of risk (or want of a better word ‘uncertainty’) appropriate to that need,” explains Morgan.
“Buying a fund that has thousands of individual companies is investing. Investing in Apple shares is speculating.”
But sometimes the best education is to just jump in.
“Getting started can be the biggest hurdle, so consider investing with a small amount at first,” suggests Mackay. “Limit the downside. Promise yourself you won’t take fright when markets have a dip, as they inevitably will. Ride it out and learn on the job. Because once you’re in, you realise it doesn’t need to be as hard as you might think.
“After all, why should boys have all the funds?”
NatWest is the bank that believes ‘we are what we do’. Whatever your financial needs, they’ll do all they can to help keep your relationship with money healthy.