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Do Women and Men Differ As Retirement Savers?

Why women have better savings habits but men have more savings

By Jean Young

(This article previously appeared on

Gender financial stereotypes abound. Women are risk adverse — to their detriment! Overconfident men trade more — to their detriment! Really?

We’ve tracked retirement savings behavior of more than 3 million Vanguard plan participants since 2000 and have seen a few consistent trends. (In our infographic, The Gendernomics of Retirement Saving, we highlight some of the gender differences observed in our data.)

'How America Saves' Findings

Here’s what we’ve found:

Women demonstrate a higher inclination toward savings — they are 10 percent more likely to enroll in their workplace saving plans than men. And once enrolled, women across all income levels save at rates anywhere from 6 to 12 percent higher than those of their male counterparts.

(MORE: Retirement Planning: Men Can Learn From Women)

Women are also more likely than men to have adopted professionally managed allocations. In other words, they’re more apt to turn the portfolio-construction task over to an investment professional. Notably, our research shows that participants using professionally managed allocations have better portfolio outcomes than the “do-it-yourself” crowd.

The Curveball of Gender and Retirement Saving

Now, here’s a curveball: Although women may be better savers and investors, men have larger account balances. The average account balance of our male participants is $121,000, more than 50 percent higher than those of female participants, whose average account balance is $78,000.

Why is this?

Put simply, wages help determine how much people save. The average wage for our male participants runs about 40 percent higher than women’s; the men’s wages average $107,000, while the average wage is $77,000 for female participants.


(MORE: 7 Steps to a Secure Retirement for Women)

A more nuanced picture emerges when you compare account balances for women and men by income bands (slicing the data by income ranges of participants).

When income bands are considered, we find that the account balances of men and women tend to converge. However, at the highest income band, men still have higher account balances than women — suggesting that men’s wages are also higher.

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that, within both genders, some participants are doing better than others. In the end, participants are people and both women and men display a broad array of distinct retirement-plan saving behaviors.

If there is one thing I am certain of, however, it’s this: Both women and men would be better off if they had higher saving rates and higher adoption of professionally-managed allocations.

Note: All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.

Jean Young is a Senior Research Analyst at the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research, which conducts and sponsors research on retirement savings and retirement benefits in the U.S. She is also the lead author for Vanguard's annual publication, How America Saves. Read More
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