Women may be worse off than men over the course of their lives as a host of psychological and cultural barriers prevent them from becoming shrewd investors.

That’s the verdict of new research from Open University, which follows industry reports suggesting women are lagging behind in money management and stand to suffer as a result.

The university has revealed a “personal investment gender gap” after assessing the take-up for its latest free course on handling portfolios and pensions. Only 40 per cent of students on its Managing My Investments course are female, a big drop-off from the high percentage of women (64 per cent) who signed up for Managing My Money, a previous course on household finances.

Professor Sharon Collard from the university suggested that women may be less interested, engaged and confident when it came to investing. She added: “This is worrying, given the important financial decisions that women and men are required to make nowadays that will impact significantly on their financial health (and potentially that of their family) in the longer-term.”

Separate research has confirmed that girls are taught less about investing than boys. iFs University College found that only a quarter of female pupils say they receive financial education compared to 36 per cent of male pupils. The data showed that 76 per cent girls leaving school at 16 to go into work or higher education will do so without learning about money at all.

Alison Pask, vice principal of iFs University College, said: “With female students making up the majority of university entrants each year it is the height of irresponsibility that so many are being sent off into the next stage of their education with next to no practical financial education.”

Lessons in money are compulsory in Scotland but often delivered through subjects such as economics, maths and business management. A Scottish Government review in 2013 admitted these subjects were “dominated by boys” and referred to evidence submitted by the charity Engender, which stated that many young women are still encouraged to prioritise “female friendly subjects” such as art and administration.

Professor Collard argued that a more cautious outlook among women could also be a thorn in their side. She said: “There is a good deal of evidence from the UK and the US that shows women to be more risk averse than men in their attitudes and behaviours towards investment decisions. Indeed, psychological studies suggest this reflects a lower tolerance to risk among women generally.

“At the same time, there is a consensus among experts that we really do need to take some risk with our money when we are investing over a longer time period, like for our retirement…academics and industry commentators point to the risk of ‘reckless conservatism’ – the reluctance of many people to take investment risk which in turn may jeopardise their longer-term objectives, such as providing an income in retirement.”

Since the base rate collapsed six years ago, savers have been urged to take more risks with their money so it can outpace the corrosive nature of inflation. The value of cash has shrunk by 2.79 per cent each year since the rate was cut while the value of equities has risen 138.9 per cent even after inflation, according to AXAWealth.

However, investment house Fidelity recently revealed that most retired women, 66 per cent, have stuck with savings accounts and 76 per cent look to cash Isas to boost their pension income, even if their money has been gradually disappearing in the process.

Professor Collard also pointed out that women need to be actively investing for their retirement if only because of their longer life expectancy compared to men.

According to the Scottish Government, average life expectancy in Scotland is now 76.8 years for men and 80.9 for women.

Yet recent figures issued by Edinburgh-based insurer Aegon showed that women are half as likely as men to be prepared for the retirement they want, with 61 per cent never checking the performance of their funds from one year to the next. Angela Seymour-Jackson, managing director of workplace savings at Aegon, advised women to have a “financial refresh” from time to time to make sure they were investing enough for the future. She said: “Dedicating just half an hour each month to checking on your savings will help ensure you’re making the most of your options.” She urged women approaching retirement to make better use of their Isa allowance (women’s Isas are typically half of the level of a male investor’s) and to write down a retirement wishlist. She added: “Set out a clear idea of the basics you’ll need to budget for, as well as any additional aspirations for retirement, such as travelling or lending support to children or grandchildren.”

Earlier this year, Blackrock identified that only one in 10 women are committed investors, with this elite group building up £58,000 outside their pension compared to just £10,000 for the average woman. It identified a common pattern of investing behaviour which helped this group, including a tendency to save and invest each month, a preference for income generating products (such as dividend-paying funds or defensive shares) and high levels of diversification in their portfolio.


As an independent financial adviser, Diane Carr has the confidence to manage her own investments, and says women too often don’t realise they have got what it takes to do it well. The co-founder of Edinburgh-based Crosbie Carr says: “I wonder if women might be more intuitive investors if only they told themselves they were capable of doing it, and being much better than they are. Sometimes you should follow your gut rather than the statistics.” The IFA says older men are not necessarily more engaged investors. “I know lots of men who know nothing about their pension and never check their funds or ask about them.” She also believes women allow men to dominate the financial services industry partly because “they don’t see themselves as good with numbers and probably view investing as having to be good at certain things”. She adds: “Men don’t let their lack of knowledge or competence stop them.”