Women on course to control larger proportion of wealth

February 3, 2010


- Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com and blogs regularly for Reuters Great Debate. The opinions expressed are her own. Reuters will host a “follow-the-sun” live blog on Monday, March 8, 2010, International Women’s Day. Please tune in. -

Projections indicate that by 2050 the world’s population will stand at around 9.2 billion, up from around 6.7 million at present.  The vast majority of this increase will be in the developing world.  In developed world countries populations may start tapering off after 2025.

It seems likely that this explosion in population in the developing world will do nothing to address the fact that that per capita wealth is massively skewed towards the developed world.  Using World Bank data for 2000, the average per capital wealth in the top 10 wealthiest countries is a staggering 170 times greater than the average in the bottom ten.
Demographics in the developed world are defined by low fertility and low mortality rates.  This translates into an ageing population.  Added to this mix is the fact that male mortality rates are higher than female in the developed world.  As a consequence, as these populations age they are becoming predominantly female.  It follows that women are on course to control an increasing proportion of the world’s wealth.
Reports that suggest that women are responsible for buying 80 percent of household goods in the U.S. will not be a surprise to the seasoned shopper.  Over the past decade or so it appears that the advertising industry has been waking up to the notion that women’s responsibilities stretch further than making decisions on washing powder.

A recent U.S. NBC/Universal poll shows that women are just as likely to want to be involved as men in all stages of buying a car.  The same poll showed that 46 percent of female respondents were the family’s breadwinner.
While there is little argument that women are well practiced at making consumption decisions, there is less clear evidence to suggest how well they behave as investors.   By definition a person’s decision to spend implies a decision not to save.  Consumption and investment are rigorously linked.  Over a person’s life-cycle a saver will, on retirement, eventually fall back on her savings.

The retirement of the baby-boomers (born between 1945 and 1964) could have a huge actuarial impact on the stock market and other investment vehicles given the increased potential for drawdowns.   Just as the demographic structure is important, it is also possible that the increasing proportion of women in populations of the developed world may also have an influence on investment vehicles.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence and some studies that suggest that women are more researched and less impulsive investors then men; a fact that some surveys attribute to women being, on balance, more risk-averse.  An interesting offshoot of the financial crisis was a discussion that male dominance in trading rooms and board rooms led to excessive risk taking that may have been countered with a female influence.

It could take decades before women have proportional representation on senior management committees, so this theory is unlikely to be tested for some time.  More timely results may come from how women approach decisions on their personal investments.  Clients of Forex.com are predominantly male, but during the course of 2009 the percentage of female customers increased by 50 percent.

Given that women are set to control an increasing amount of wealth, it is likely that the proportion of female investors will rise further and that this increase in female participation will be matched across other asset classes and investment vehicles.

If women are indeed more risk-averse than their male counterparts, then over time this may increase the degree of self regulation over the amount of risk taken by the financial industry as a whole.

One comment

Comments are closed.