When women think like men about money

When women take over traditional male financial roles, they begin to think like men -- at least when it comes to investing, according to a new study by UBS Wealth Management.

In an effort to see how couples approach financial chores and decision-making, UBS surveyed more than 2,500 couples, asking who pays the bills and decides on everything from big purchases to where to invest.

The survey found that women resoundingly are the household bill-payers and are likely to determine where to distribute the family's charitable donations. But they're less likely to be involved in investing decisions, where they prefer conservative fixed-return investments to stocks.

However, in the 16 percent of households where women are the primary decision-makers, their investment strategies are far different. Like men, these women favor stocks to fixed income -- and that's likely to be a big advantage over time.

Stocks, on average, earn about twice the return of bonds. Over long stretches of time, that can add up to a fortune. Consider two investors, who both sock away $250 a month over the course of a 40-year span. One investor puts her money in bonds, earning an average of 5% (which is the long-term average, according to market researchers at Ibbotson Associates). The other puts her money in stocks and earns 10 percent (roughly the long-term average of big-company stocks).

Forty years later, when the two investors want to cash out, the one who played it safe in bonds has $381,505. The investor who put her money in stocks has $1.58 million. Even if the stock investor suffered through the worst market crash in history, right before she needed her funds, she'd still be vastly ahead of the bond investor.

Indeed, the bond investor's "safe" portfolio is likely to lose ground to inflation and income taxes, which makes fixed-income portfolios far less safe for maintaining long-term buying power.

Not surprisingly, according to the UBS research, the older women, who are the most likely to abdicate investing decisions to their husbands, are also the most anxious in retirement, worried that they'll run out of money before they run out of breath.

Unfortunately, the 16 percent of women who handle the family investment responsibilities aren't that happy about it. But their worries aren't about outliving their cash. They complain about the stress of handling the money.

UBS officials say this is probably because they continue to carry the burden of other household chores, so placing the investment decisions entirely on their shoulders makes them feel overwhelmed.

The happy medium is all about what you learned in kindergarten -- sharing. The 28 percent of couples who share financial decisions have the fewest financial worries and are more likely to invest aggressively enough to earn reasonable long-term rates of return.

But sharing may not be easy for some couples. According to the study, 32 percent of women and 24 percent of men lie or hide information about money from their spouse.

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