Women and men feel very differently about the health of the U.S. housing market, a new survey suggests. Men are far more confident that buying a home today is a good investment, that they can afford a down payment, or that they can upgrade to a bigger home, according to ValueInsured, a firm that provides insurance to home buyers.
Years of surveys have suggested that women are more risk-averse in financial arenas than men. (Keep in mind, some of these surveys are often conducted by financial institutions with an interest in convincing people to take more risks — that is, to move more money into their financial products.)
Meanwhile, “risk-averse” often sounds like veiled criticism, when it could just as easily represent wisdom. For example, back in 2003, Gallup released a poll showing an enormous disparity in economic optimism between men and women in the U.S. (68% of men versus 42% of women expressed optimism, a record at the time). Longer term, women who were described by Gallup as “not convinced about the recovery” in 2003 turned out to be right.
The gender difference isn’t a U.S. phenomenon, according to a study published by New Zealand researchers called “Are Men More Optimistic?” Examining decades’ worth of polling data from 18 Western countries, the group found an optimism gap in 17 of them, with Germany as the exception. The researchers found that in only one month (March 2000) did U.S. women show greater confidence than U.S. men.
“This gender difference is present in key indicators such as economic growth, interest rates, inflation and future stock market performance, and persists after we control for income, employment, wealth, education and marital status,” the researchers said. “Our results hold regardless whether we consider questions about respondent’s personal future economic situation or the general state of the economy.”
With that as context, here’s what ValueInsured found:
- Women are less confident that the American housing market is healthy, with a confidence gap of 21 percentage points (68% of men versus 47% of women).
- Women are less confident that buying a home today is a secure and smart financial investment, with a confidence gap of 15 percentage points (76% of men versus 61% of women).
- Women non-homeowners are less confident that they can afford the down payment to buy a home, with a confidence gap of 13 percentage points (42% of men versus 29% of women).
- Men are more confident than women that they can sell their home for the same amount or more than what they paid for it.
- More men (83%) than women (74%) would like to sell their current home and upgrade to a new one.
- The most dramatic difference arose among men and women who already had a home and might consider trading up: While 92% of men said they could afford the down payment on a new home, only 69% of women said they felt that way.
- It’s not that women don’t want homes: ValueInsured found that 77% of women who don’t own a home say they would like to buy a home compared to 70% of men.
The ValueInsured Modern Homebuyer Survey was conducted online by Equation Research on behalf of ValueInsured in March 2016 among a nationally representative sample of 1,157 American adults ages 18 and older. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.4%.
The firm says gender differences in financial goal-setting might explain the gap: Asked about their personal definition of the American Dream, women were more likely to cite being “debt free,” while men were more likely to cite “owning my own home.”
“Understanding these differences in attitudes will help make this year’s home-buying season successful for both sellers and lenders,” said Joe Melendez, CEO of ValueInsured, in a news release about the survey. “The numbers highlight the need to ensure that all buyers, and especially women, know about the new ways they can protect their hard-earned investments when buying a home.”
“Overconfidence” is one reason often given for men’s greater comfort with risk; men are more likely to overestimate their investing skills, some studies suggest. A Berkley study called “Boys will be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence, and Common Stock Investment,” found that men trade 45% more than women, which costs them 2.65% annually in returns.
But reasons often given for women’s risk-aversion, if we agree on that term, sound an awful lot like stereotypes that — as all stereotypes do — break down under deeper examination. There is some evidence that gender-based risk-taking differences are starting to disappear among younger adults. One BlackRock survey found that millennial women are twice as likely as Baby Boomer women to take on higher risk investments seeking higher returns.
On the other hand, some recent data does suggest men are more prone to rash decisions than women. A 2009 Vanguard study found that during the most recent stock market crash, in 2008 and 2009, women were 10% less likely to “abandon” stocks – generally a bad idea after a crash. Men who did sell locked in their losses, meaning they missed out on the huge post-crash gains.
In other words, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong about the risks you do or don’t take with your own money. Do your own research, trust yourself. Be confident but not overconfident. Before you make a big financial decision like buying a home, take the time to see where your credit stands, since that factors in heavily in mortgage approval. You can see two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.