Gender Matters When It Comes to Retirement

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By Dave Carpenter, AP Personal Finance Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, how on Earth can couples be in sync on planning and saving for retirement?

It's not always easy.

Men and women tend to have different approaches toward money and planning for retirement. While generalities don't apply to everyone, it's widely acknowledged that men take more investing risks and women don't react to market swings as much, among other tendencies.

Recognizing those differences and their long-term consequences is particularly important for couples who are planning their retirement and may find themselves in stark disagreements with their spouse.

"It's not a matter of one gender being right and the other wrong," says John Ameriks, head of investment counseling and research for The Vanguard Group. "You just need to be aware of the differences when you're making investing decisions."

In a bull market, he notes, women might be criticized for not taking enough risk, but in a bear market men can drag portfolios down by having gambled too much with their stocks. Investors should try to think more about their own biased tendencies — by gender and otherwise — and perhaps take a cue from their partner's better instincts in some cases.

Here are some of the biggest perceived differences between the sexes on their financial approach to retirement, as well as suggestions for how to compensate for them:

— Men tend to be overconfident about their investing and retirement planning skills.

Two studies in recent months provide the latest evidence that men have more confidence, often to a fault.

Men were much more likely than women to sell their shares at stock-market lows during the financial crisis of 2008-09, based on a study by Vanguard of 2.7 million customers with individual retirement accounts. That was decisive but costly, given the market's dramatic rally as soon as the bottom was reached 14 months ago. In the next four months alone, the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 30%.

The men in a separate study, too, felt very confident that more often they were doing a good job of preparing financially for retirement than women. They also were more likely to think they would have enough saved to live comfortably through their retirement, according to the January survey of more than 1,100 respondents by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

An overdose of confidence can be dangerous, especially when it comes to stocks. A groundbreaking study of investing behavior involving more than 35,000 clients of a discount brokerage by economists Brad Barber and Terrance Odean in 2001 found that men traded 45% more often than women but earned returns that were 1.4% less.

The tendency toward overconfidence holds true around the world, according to Meir Statman, a finance professor at Santa Clara (Calif.) University who has conducted his own research on the subject. He advises men to take a cue from the opposite sex.

"I have a phrase for that," he says. "'Be a man and trade like a woman.'"

His suggested solution for how to balance a couple's differing attitudes toward their investments: Keep separate portfolios.

— Women generally prefer less risky investments.

Contrary to what some may assume, women overall bring less emotion to the stock market than men and approach investing dispassionately. "Women may have a more logical approach — they don't react to market movements as much," says Theresa O'Hara, a financial planner at Vanguard.

Women were found to be less likely to buy a "hot" but risky stock and more likely to diversify in a 2004 survey of 500 men and 500 women conducted for Merrill Lynch. They also were likely to let go of losing stocks faster and made fewer investing mistakes than men overall, even though they admitted not knowing as much about the market.

Not overreacting to the market's ups and downs is a sound way to build a retirement portfolio over the long term. Financial advisers counsel against being too risk-averse, however. Investing too conservatively can be counterproductive if you can't keep ahead of inflation.

— Men don't plan for a long retirement.

Since their life expectancy is five years shorter on average (80.4 years for women and 75.3 years for men in 2007), men worry less about saving for a long life.

Michael Goodman, a New York-based planner with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, says that's one reason why men often are less concerned with the long-term rate of return.

"They don't plan for a full life," he says. "They think they will pass away before they turn 80."

Once when he was advising a couple about taking steps to ensure their money didn't run out in retirement, he recalls the man saying jokingly to his wife, "That'll probably be your problem."

— Women save more.

While their average income may be less than that of men, women have shown a tendency to sock away more for retirement.

This was borne out by Vanguard research which found that its female clients who have joined a retirement plan at work tend to save about 10% more than men at the same income levels — sometimes more. For example, women earning from $50,000 to $74,999 saved an average 7.9% of their income in 2008 versus 7% for men in the same income range.

Women have, in fact, saved a higher percentage of their pay in seven of the last nine years, according to Vanguard.

It's understandable why they might feel more urgency to save. Besides living longer and making less, they have shorter careers as they take breaks for family reasons and pay less into Social Security.

"Women tend to save more out of fear than proactive planning," says Bleckley Dobbs, a certified financial planner with the Lucien, Stirling & Gray Advisory Group in Austin, Texas. "They often bring up the fear of being a bag lady, even when they have plenty of money."

All the differences between the two underscore the need to proceed logically with investing and retirement decisions.

"Ask yourselves questions before you make decisions," says Ameriks. "See if you can learn anything from the other gender's point of view."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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