What do you think of when you read the word ‘investor‘? What mental image springs to mind when you hear that word?
Perhaps you’ve heard this riddle: A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” Explain.
It’s really quite simple: the surgeon is the boy’s mother. (Or, in a modern twist, perhaps the boy has two fathers). Yet research at Boston University shows the vast majority of people are unable to solve this riddle, because we assume a ‘surgeon’ is a man.
When you think of an investor, chances are, it’s a man you think of too. Specifically a white, middle-aged, wealthy-looking guy, in a suit.
New! Podcast version:
In my last post, I theorised that this stereotypical view of what constitutes an ‘investor’ probably has something to do with the number of books and other financial resources on the market targeting women, or minorities.
The word ‘investor’ seems to be gendered.
I don’t mean linguistic gender, like the distinction between aviator/aviatrix or actor/actress.
After all, we call everyone who invests an ‘investor’. Not an ‘investrix’ or an ‘investress’.
I mean in terms of cultural connotations. Just like how people tend to assume that a ‘doctor’ will be a man. Or a ‘nurse’ will be a woman. There are clues in our language. We feel a need to specify ‘male nurse’ or ‘woman doctor’, but rarely ‘female nurse’ or ‘man doctor’.
And of course, we judge people based on how they look, too. When airline stewards (another profession frequently considered gendered) ask for medical professionals on a plane, highly qualified people of colour and women are frequently passed over and ignored. Doctors, we assume, are white males.
Likewise, we tend to view investors as men. Specifically white, middle-aged, wealthy-looking men in suits.
In order to test this hypothesis, I decided to perform a little experiment. Instead of asking several hundred people like they did at Boston University, I decided to ask the world. I did a Google Images search. (Of course, I used an encrypted search via DuckDuckGo to ensure Google was simply serving what it deemed the top-ranking images as opposed to any tailored to my own personal biases.)
Drawing on some of the techniques I used to use in my old research job, I surveyed the top 50 pictures that loaded which contained people in some form, including cartoon. (I would have liked to do more, but my internet connection is painfully slow here).
These 50 pictures depicted a total of 95 people or parts of people (mostly hands) in focus. (In shots where a person in the foreground was in focus, and everyone standing in the background blurred beyond recognition, I only examined the non-blurry person).
As a crude measure, I coded each of these people according to apparent ethnicity (except in the case of silhouettes) and apparent gender. Although a subjective and unsophisticated method, I was interested in a big-picture, general trend in stereotypes here. I didn’t come across any examples I considered ambiguous as to either measure. (Even hands, for example, were always gendered through the use of apparel and accessories).
Investors are white men in suits
Of the 95 people I identified, 73, or close to 77%, were male. Twenty of those male figures were silhouettes. This leaves 53 photographed humans or cartoons which depicted skin, eye, and hair colour.
Of those 53 men, 46, or nearly 87% were white.
And of course, they were all wearing suits.
Naturally, the average person is not a white, suit-wearing male.
Not your typical person…
According to the National Geographic, the ‘typical’ person in the world today is:
- makes less than $12,000 a year
- has a cell phone, but no bank account (if you have one, you’re in an exclusive club of just 25% of the world’s population…!)
- male (but just barely) and
- is on average 28 years old
And since the world’s largest ethnic group is currently Han Chinese (soon to be Indian), the ‘typical’ person according to NatGeo is a 28 year old Han Chinese guy.
As the video says, there are over nine million 28 year old Han Chinese guys.
Just the 28 year old males. Not the 27 year olds or the 29 year olds. Not the 28 year old ladies.
Nine million 28 year old Han Chinese guys.
If they all decided to get together and create their own country, just for 28 year old Han Chinese guys, it would be more populous than Hong Kong. Or Denmark. Or Singapore, Finland, Norway, or New Zealand. It would be over ten times the size of Fiji, Macau, the Maldives, or Iceland.
In fact, that country, let’s call it 28YearOldHanDudesville, would be about the 95th largest country in the world – ahead of 138 other countries.
And yet, I found only three Asian guys in my image search. (I have no idea whether they were 28, or Han Chinese background!) And there was only one Asian female.
Even though around 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, only 4% of the images of investors were of Asians.
Now, of course, not everyone who lives in Asia is of Asian heritage and ‘looks’ Asian. And there are large numbers of people of Asian background living in other parts of the world. But it’s pretty obvious that Asians are underrepresented in images of investors.
An experiment in Chinese
Perhaps the issue is linguistic? If I’m looking for a depiction of a typical person, who is apparently Chinese, maybe I need to search in Chinese?
Performing the same type of search for ‘投資者’, the first 50 images containing depictions of people contained a total of 99 distinct people. (I omitted some smaller or blurred people in the backgrounds of thumbnails).
This time, 90% were male.
Now, I know I said the ‘typical’ person is a man (although I do have some doubts about this statistic, given the vast numbers of girls around the globe whose births are not registered – c.f. China’s “missing” girls).
But the difference between the numbers of officially registered men and women in the world is minute. It’s about 101 to 100.
So it seems pretty clear that in both English and Chinese representations of investors, women are under-represented. The image we have of investors is undeniably male.
It’s true that women don’t invest (at least directly) in the share markets as much as men. But this is a kind of chicken-and-egg problem. Research suggests that part of the reason women are scared to invest is because it is seen as a men’s domain.
The fact is, we don’t even need more women to invest in order to change how investors are represented. How easy is it to hire a woman in a suit to look like an ‘investor’ for some stock images?
Missing Asians (and everyone else who isn’t white)
Asian investors also appear under-represented in Chinese conceptions of ‘投資者’. Only 20% of those depicted were of Asian appearance broadly, compared to over 30% whites (the rest were silhouettes or indeterminate cartoons). No people of colour were observed in this small sample.
We aren’t inherently different
In my previous post, I pointed out that there is nothing inherently different between people of different ethnicities, or genders, that affects their investing ability, and that should hence necessitate different books. But it’s pretty clear that investing is considered a largely white, male pursuit. Some even go so far as to describe it as an ‘inherently masculine‘ activity. But of course that’s garbage. There is nothing male about investing. You don’t need to utilise your genitals to place a trade.
Inherent means that something is intrinsic, that it is inseparable. If investing really were inherently masculine, no one identifying as female or with female characteristics would be able to do it and everyone identifying as male or with male characteristics would be able to. Yet studies suggest that women’s general tendency to be cautious investors (often because it’s regarded as a male pursuit and ‘out of bounds’) means that those women who do push through and invest are often better at it than the larger group of frequently over-confident male investors.
Women aren’t better investors… nor are men.
Statistics like this do not mean that women are inherently better investors though. Having a uterus is of no benefit to investing that I can see. Rather, there are two effects happening here:
- the confidence men generally feel in pursuing something considered ‘masculine’ like investing means that larger numbers of men participate. This includes men who make poor judgements or are under prepared, hence watering down men’s overall success. These are the men who, were they women, would likely have not had the confidence to begin in the first place without further education, or who would have given up after some initial failures, lacking self confidence.
- women who feel that investing is scary and outside their domain are often tougher on themselves, putting themselves through rigorous education before they build the confidence to begin. Many who might have made quite passable investors, although not necessarily stellar ones, give up, thus skewing women’s overall performance higher.
(Interested in female investors? Check this out)
We aren’t all the same
When I started investing, I couldn’t understand the necessity for books aimed solely at women. After all, women, like, for instance, Latinos, have no inherent advantages or disadvantages when it comes to investing. (Even though, when it comes to statistics, members of both groups are perhaps more likely to have lower-paid jobs, women were historically banned from owning property, and so on).
Likewise, women, like, for another example, African Americans, are not a homogenous group. Some people are great at finances, others are not. Some people have a lot of money, others do not.
The colour of your skin, or what you have between your legs, or whether or not you choose to wear heels, might influence the education you have had access to and the financial background you have come from in terms of statistical probabilities, but it does not determine your capacities. A white male does not automatically have access to trust funds and investment portfolios merely as a function of his gender and skin colour.
Investing ability has very little to do with genes…
or what’s in your jeans
My point is not to say that it the odds aren’t against you if you are a person of colour, or a woman, or a sexual minority. That’s undeniably and sadly true in so many places right the way around the world. In my own country, Indigenous Australians typically die around a decade earlier than non-Indigenous Australians. They typically receive less education, achieve poorer outcomes at school, experience higher levels of unemployment, and Indigenous households on average earn just 60% of the income of their non-Indigenous counterparts.
None of this is determined by genetics. Nothing inherent to aboriginality means Indigenous students should perform poorly at schools. Nor that they should be unemployed or earn low wages. The real cause of these problems is not difficult to uncover. Social issues. Issues which stem from over 200 years’ of systemic abuse, and everyday racism.
The story behind the statistics
Government estimates suggest that at least 1 in 10, and possibly even up to 1 in 3 Indigenous children between 1910 and 1970 were taken from their families in the Stolen Generations. For no reason other than the belief that European civilisation was superior. In practice, many of these children were not only severed from their families and culture, but subjected to physical and sexual abuse by their eventual ‘carers’, and used as domestic slaves and laborers.
When Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were still being forcibly removed from their families until the 1960s, and in the case of kids referred to ‘half-caste’ until the 1970s, it’s not hard to see why the parents and grandparents of today’s children may not have always been the best prepared to help their kids with their homework and encourage them in their schoolwork.
It’s hardly surprising
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers had their wages stolen too. While it’s normal to whinge and complain about marginal tax rates these days, imagine having 12% of your wage go to tax, another 12% to the Aborigines Welfare Fund, 50% to the state-based Aboriginal’s account (in your name, but not always returned to you), leaving you with just 25% of your total wage as “pocket money”. And when your initial wage is already much lower than the average, that leaves you with not very much at all. Where did all the rest of the money go? To pay for the ‘protectors’ who you have no say in appointing, but control your life in matters such as employment and even marriage. This went on until the 1990s.
Less than 100 years ago, in 1919, wages for Aboriginal pastoral workers were set at just 66% of those for white workers. In 1968, Aboriginal workers on reserves fared even worse, receiving just half of the so-called minimum wage. It took until 1986 – after I was born – for the Queensland government to finally pay equal wages to Aboriginal workers on missions.
When a scheme to start returning stolen wages not yet already paid out to Indigenous Australians in Queensland was only set up in 1999, and when severe underpayment continued for so long, it’s hardly surprising that many Indigenous families have not had a chance to build up the financial resources that their non-Indigenous counterparts may have.
This is not ancient history.
We are only 18 years into the 21st century. This all happened within living memory and experience, and discrimination continues in many respects today.
There are many other problems which disproportionately affect Aboriginal Australians which I haven’t the space to mention here. But again, these issues do not affect Aboriginal people because of anything inherent to Indigenous peoples, but rather, due to a long history of racism (up to and including killing) which has resulted in Aboriginal people generally being poorer and more isolated, which of course leads to mental and physical health outcomes, substance abuse issues, and so on.
Poverty, and the disadvantages that go with it, can affect anyone of any nationality, genetics, heritage, culture, gender, sex, orientation, or language. But when we see poverty and its friends disproportionately affecting any one group, we have to ask why – and the answer usually lies in some form of discrimination that is based on stereotypes and faulty logic rather than inherent truths about a people.
Looking at what financial resources are tailored to particular groups tells us a lot about how those groups are perceived. Based on the Amazon searches I did for my previous post, one gets the impression that African Americans are interested in sports and rap or hip-hop. That women like shopping and shoes (and especially, shopping for shoes).
Of course, many African Americans (and many non-African Americans) do like sports and music. And many women (and many non-women) do like shoe shopping. But it’s when we consider that that’s all there is to a person – or to a group – that we have a problem.
Financial resources specifically targeting minority groups and women exist because investing is considered to be such a white man’s world. Even the dominant colour of the images, as you can see from this post’s featured image, is commonly associated with modern masculinity – blue. (Interestingly, it used to be pink).
‘Hey bro! Money is for dudes, too! The straight white man’s guide to financial success’
Why that isn’t a book that exists.
In my previous post, I mentioned that there are over 10,0000 books aimed at women on finances, but fewer than 5,000 aimed at men. Furthermore, while there is a multitude of books aimed at African or Latino American audiences, you won’t find any aimed at ‘white Americans’ or ‘Caucasians’ on Amazon. (The closest I could find was a book on investing for doctors, i.e. ‘white coats’, and one on investing in the Caucasian geographic region).
In fact, revealingly, the only book I found on finance with the word ‘white’ in the title as a reference to ethnicity was called How to Succeed in Business without being White.
Nor will you find any finance books targeting heterosexuals.
These books don’t exist because books on finance and investing are, by default, considered to be for straight white men.
Culture is richer than stereotypes
I hope that one day I will live in a world in which bright pink books on investing specifically for women or blinged up books specifically for African American audiences are no longer necessary, because everyone has access to the necessary capital and education, and investing is seen as something for everyone, not just for those who fit today’s stereotype of the investor.
This doesn’t mean that I want to wish any culture away, or that I don’t like hip-hop or shoes. On the contrary. I want culture to be something we can enjoy without it being used as a convenient shorthand to lump everyone who shares some characteristic (be it sexual organs, identity, or preferences, or skin tone) into a cardboard-cutout version of what it means to be a human being.
Further, the depiction of white males as universally competent investors has a negative impact on them too. As I pointed out in my last post, men in need of help and further education may be dissuaded from reading beginners’ books, finding few that are tailored to them, and many which appear to exclude them. The well-documented over-confidence of men when it comes to investing may also be partially attributable to their over-representation in images of investors.
For now, I take my hat off to all authors who are genuinely doing something to make finances more accessible and more appealing to a broader audience (rather than just trying to make a quick buck through market segmentation). And I encourage everyone to read widely – read books aimed at your demographic, and at others. I’ve found fantastic advice in books marketed to people of different cultures and even faiths, to my own.