The market has had quite the year. In March, we saw a historic market drop and Americans scrambled to figure out whether to pull their investments or ride out the storm. That was followed by a bounce-back that also made headlines and turned the stock market into a hot conversation topic.
Because of the heightened interest in investing, FinanceBuzz conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults to better understand our investing habits. The survey found that most people are investing and those sitting out are often doing so due to lack of knowledge. We also found a gender divide when it comes to how men and women approach investing.
- Nearly 3 in 10 Americans haven’t started investing yet, including 34% of women and 24% of men who aren’t investing.
- The top reasons Americans aren’t investing: They don’t have enough money to do so (54%); they don’t know enough about investing (40%); and they are afraid of losing money (36%).
- More than a quarter of Americans (27%) learned how to invest by teaching themselves using online resources.
- 18% of women said they learned about investing from their partner vs. only 7% of men who said the same.
- 62% of respondents said they believe you should have at least $1,000 ready to invest before opening an investment account.
- Over half of men (60%) review their investment portfolio at least weekly compared to 41% of women who said the same.
3 in 10 Americans aren’t investing (especially women)
Overall, a majority of people (71%) are investing, but investing habits vary by gender. Only 66% of women are investing, whereas 76% of men are investing.
A majority of people who don’t invest (54%) say they sit out because they don’t have enough money. And because lack of funds is a common investing roadblock, the gender wage gap could play a role in why women are investing at a lower rate than men.
PayScale studied the median income of all men and women and found that women earn 81 cents to every man’s dollar. As a result, women stand to earn $900,000 less than men over a 40-year career, on average. This could leave women with significantly less money to put into the market.
Knowledge is another barrier to entry for non-investors: A little more than 40% of survey respondents say that not knowing enough about investing is why they haven’t started. Fear also plays a role — 36% of Americans say they don’t invest because they are afraid of losing money.
A majority of Americans think you need $1,000 or more before you can start investing
The idea that you need thousands of dollars socked away before you can start investing might also be keeping potential investors on the sidelines.
Nearly 62% of Americans think you need at least $1,000 to open an investment account, and more than half of those people believe you need a minimum of $5,000.
The good news is you can get into the game with much less. Although there are some mutual funds in which the investment minimum could be a few thousand dollars, other funds require no minimum to get started.
Plus, there are investing platforms like Acorns and Stash that can manage small amounts of money for you. Acorns is an app that can connect to your checking account, round up your purchases, and invest the spare change. Stash is another investment tool where you can start investing in fractional shares of stock and exchange-traded funds with as little as $1.
Although these accounts are easy to sign up for and have no investment minimum, it’s important to note there is still risk involved, and you can still lose money. When you set up your account, both Acorns and Stash will ask you questions about your age and risk tolerance to suggest an appropriate portfolio.
Most Americans think investing is for retirement
The top investment goal for Americans is saving for retirement. This isn’t shocking as experts stress the importance of stockpiling money in our retirement funds for the golden years.
However, investing money for other long-term goals can be a smart strategy as well. Perhaps you want to build a house at some point or take a year away from work — you could pull from your investments to make it happen. Building an investment portfolio could also help you amass wealth that you can pass down to heirs.
As for other investment goals, just 4% of Americans say they invest for college, and that could be a missed opportunity. Investing in a tax-advantaged 529 plan investment portfolio over five, 10, or 15 years could help offset your child’s education costs.
Another 16% say building an emergency fund is their top priority. Interest rates on savings accounts are currently nothing to write home about, and investing might give you a higher return. The trade-off is that you could lose a portion of your savings during a market dip.
High-yield savings accounts or money market accounts with Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) or National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insurance are alternatives where you can safely stash some of your emergency cash. With these accounts, up to $250,000 of your money is backed by the government, so your money will always be there when you need it.
Men and women have learned about investing via different paths
Many Americans are turning to the internet to soak up information about investing. More than one in four Americans learned how to invest by using online resources.
But there are differences in how each gender seeks information. For example, 18% of women say they learned about investing from their partner, compared to just 7% of men who say the same.
The study also found several more differences between men and women:
- Men are more likely to learn about investing in high school or college.
- Men are more than twice as likely to teach themselves about investing online.
- Men are three times more likely to learn about investing from books.
Furthermore, only 16% of men say they don’t know how investing works compared to 23% of women. What could be the cause?
The disparity we see might be because old-school attitudes towards gender roles still linger: Men manage the finances while women manage the home.
We also can’t ignore the systematic setbacks for women. It wasn’t until the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that it became illegal for employers to pay someone less based on their sex; despite this, the wage gap persists. In 1978, the Civil Rights Act was amended to add the Pregnancy Discrimination Act that made it unlawful for employers to make hiring, firing, and other employment decisions based on pregnancy.
Because these acts and amendments passed in recent history, women could still be playing catch up when it comes to feeling confident about their earning potential and empowered to make financial decisions. But there is progress — a 2019 study published by Allianz Life found that millennial women are taking a more active role in financial planning and are more likely than women of older generations to say they’re ready to invest now.
Where and how we invest
Both men and women value doing business with an investment company that offers multiple account types to choose from. Men and women also put a high value on low fees, though men place greater importance on commission-free trading. Both appreciate great customer service, but women value working with a human advisor more than men do.
All respondents top 5 features:
- Types of investment accounts offered (44%)
- Low management fees and/or expense ratios (42%)
- Easy-to-use app (38%)
- Commission-free trades (35%)
- Great customer service (34%)
Women top 5 features:
- Types of investment accounts offered (46%)
- Low management fees and/or expense ratios (43%)
- Easy-to-use app (39%)
- Great customer service (38%)
- Availability of human advisors (32%)
Men top 5 features:
- Types of investment accounts offered (43%)
- Commission-free trades (41%)
- Low management fees and/or expense ratios (41%)
- Easy-to-use app (38%)
- Great customer service (30%)
How often people review their portfolios and their future outlook
Those who invest review their accounts often. Overall, 22% of Americans review their investments daily, 29% review weekly, and 24% review monthly. But when we take a look at each gender, men review their portfolio more frequently than women.
More than half of men (60%) review their portfolio at least weekly compared with 41% of women who do the same. Ultimately, how often you should check your portfolio depends on your goals. If you’re investing for the long haul, checking daily could tempt you to make shortsighted decisions.
Speaking of the long haul, when investors look to the future, most are optimistic. Almost half (47%) believe the market will be up by the end of 2020. But for many people, the market is a mystery: 22% of women and 12% of men say they have no idea where the market is headed.
How to get started investing
If you haven’t started investing yet (or you have and want to step it up a notch), here are some steps you can take:
- Don’t miss out on employee match. If your company offers to match your 401(k) contributions, take advantage of that match. Speak with human resources about the company-sponsored retirement plans available so you can make the most of the employee benefit.
- Explore accounts for self-employed workers: Being self-employed can throw a wrench into your retirement planning because there’s no traditional employer-sponsored retirement program. But you still have options. If you don’t have any employees, you can set up a solo 401(k). Or you can consider opening a Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, or SEP IRA.
- Speak with a financial planner. You may recoil at the idea of hiring a financial planner because it sounds expensive. But some financial planners are affordable and work for a flat-rate or percentage of your assets. They can help make sure you’re on track for retirement and advise you on how investing can help you meet other financial goals.
- Consider a robo-advisor: Robo-advisors, such as Wealthfront and Betterment, automate investing. Robo-advisors typically charge a commission fee for handling your portfolio, so that’s something you’ll have to compare across platforms. Check out our review of the best robo-advisors.
- Start small: You don’t need to have a ton of money to start investing. You can open an investment account with maybe a few hundred dollars and grow from there. Set up automatic contributions of $25 or $50 into the account, and you can always increase that amount as your income increases.
FinanceBuzz surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 or older on Aug. 19, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender and age.