In early May, I had the opportunity to attend an intriguing session at a conference that dealt with the subject of money and gender, specifically women. Two female advisors who specialized in working with women gave a presentation that turned out to be both compelling and controversial.
Some of the women in the audience took offense, or at least exception, to the portrayal of female clients as helpless, clueless little lambs left vulnerable to the vagaries of divorce from or the death of their husbands. This may be an exaggeration of the portrayal, but that's how some attendees took it.
Certainly, there are many couples where the man makes all the financial decisions. One advisor described a meeting with a couple where the man was a seriously overweight, heavy smoking technology consultant in his 60s who made close to a seven-figure income and the wife was a marginally successful personal trainer. They had just put a $1 million addition on their house and his retirement plan was to work into his 80s.
The husband talked for 50 minutes and then got up to leave the room. Then the advisor asked the wife, "What about you?" She burst into tears. Both advisor and client realized that if something happened to the husband, she could lose her house. To me, the answer seemed obvious and had little to do with finance-the husband badly needed to retain the professional services of his wife.
I'm sure that variants of cases like this are very common, particularly among the generation north of 60. But increasingly, I meet couples whose breadwinner and chief investor is the woman. This creates another Pandora's box of issues. For instance, is the man a big enough person to handle it? But I digress.
Certainly there are differences in financial behavior between the two sexes. Women are less likely to approach financial decisions with the buffoonish macho swagger of, say, Donald Trump. Some studies have found that females' portfolios outperform men's primarily for one reason-they trade less frequently.
During the Great Recession, women also were less likely to view the dramatic drop in equity prices as a buying opportunity, according to research from Spectrem Group. But this last economic downturn got nicknamed the "Mancession" because men bore the brunt, some estimates say as much as 70%, of the layoffs.
Anyone who thinks that the recession didn't expose the vulnerabilities and insecurities of men as much as women is living on Neptune, not Mars or Venus.