Sunday, March 14, 2010


The press loves sex-difference stories. Here's one:

MEN and women invest differently, a growing body of research has found. And in at least one important respect, women may be better at it.

The latest data comes from Vanguard, the mutual fund company. Among 2.7 million people with I.R.A.'s at the company, it found that during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, men were much more likely than women to sell their shares at stock market lows. Those sales presumably meant big losses -- and missing the start of the market rally that began a year ago.

Male investors, as a group, appear to be overconfident, said John Ameriks, head of Vanguard Investment Counseling and Research and a co-author of the study....

Yeah, that's probably one reason. But as a male who used to shift money around in a dumb way in my 401(k) back in the '90s (before I stopped even trying to beat the system), I have to wonder whether overconfidence is the only possible explanation for this difference. I wasn't really overconfident -- I was angry. I looked at the performance of the stock market in the '90s, and I looked at my own returns (and discussed returns with other people at my company), and I just wanted in on the boom that seemed to be eluding my grasp (and my co-workers' grasp). Needless to say, it didn't work.

Later in the story (which is from the business section of The New York Times), we get this:

The economists found that while both sexes reduced net returns through trading, men did so by 0.94 percentage points more per year.

Wait a minute. This is a story about gender differences, but you're telling me that both men and women lost money from making trades in their IRAs?

You mean everybody loses at this casino?

You see, when it comes to retirement savings, gainfully employed people really are in what George W. Bush called "the ownership society" -- hardly any of us have old-fashioned pensions; instead, we have to do our investing and make our own choices.

And this report say men do poorly ... and women do somewhat less poorly, but still poorly. We try to shift our money around to increase our retirement funds, but the house regularly wins.

Well, of course -- we're amateurs. How are we going to beat the pros, who know all the tricks and can trade faster and in more sophisticated ways than we can?

This is how the right wants us to save for retirement. I don't like the right's approach to health care, but this is worse -- it's as if they insisted that we had to be our own doctors, isn't it?

No comments: