Although many studies have attempted to answer this question, I have come across no conclusive evidence that the genders invest differently, at least in the traditional investing categories of stocks, bonds and cash.

From my 20 years plus experience as a portfolio manager dealing with both female and male investors, I see more or less the same percentage weightings in the various asset classes and the same types of security selections, and the same returns. This is not only true of my own clients, but it also includes the hundreds of portfolios from prospective clients I have reviewed over the years.

So, what is a more relevant conversation?

From my global research, I know there are three key differences in how men and women communicate about, think about, and act when it comes to investing.

Women prefer to learn about investing ideas by sharing stories

My first study (from 2010) “Financial Lives of Girls and Women” revealed that when it comes to learning about money matters, most women don’t watch financial news on the television, take financial courses, or spend much time talking about their winners and losers.

Women tend to be more interested in learning about investing by reading or listening to real stories from real people. They also prefer to share those lessons with their friends or with the next generation. Stories, narratives, relationships, and family life are central.

Women are great users of social media. Social media has changed the way that women a) inform themselves about money; b) communicate about and share investment ideas; and c) find investment advisers.

Women are planners

Women may take longer to make an investment decision. They are natural planners and they will do their homework to understand the context of their decisions. They will take calculated risks, but only after taking their time.

Women will search for and invest in stocks and funds that reflect their core values about diversity, the environment, and the developing world. Often these investments will be in what might be described as “riskier assets” than the average S&P 500 stock, but women will knowingly embrace that risk since it reflects their beliefs.

While planning is a positive, many women have perfectionist tendencies, and this can cause investment paralysis. Investment advisers are likely to need more time if working with a female client but it will usually be time well spent because women tend to be very loyal customers. They almost never jump around based on short-term investment performance.

A woman’s definition of investing is much broader than just stocks or bonds

In my white paper “How smart women are Investing/spending their resources in 2013” , I asked 100 accomplished women around the world two important questions: “At this time in your life, how are you spending your personal time, energy, and/or money?” and “What are you most passionate about and why?”

I discovered that women invest much of their time, energy, and money into specific causes and concerns that matter to them. In fact, many of the women I interviewed mentioned investing sizable amounts of their investable assets outside of their traditional equity portfolio. They wanted to spend money on the things they are passionate about — the personal causes and private businesses that reflect their core values. Women will want to have a relationship to an investment opportunity. It has to engage them and resonate with their personal values.

The bottom line about gender differences and investing?

Women and men communicate, think, and act differently in the three ways mentioned above. But in all likelihood their traditional asset mix and investment returns will be quite similar.

I would argue that most differences in traditional investment portfolios reflect each investor’s personality more than gender. For example, you have type-A or B people; aggressive versus conservative clients; and investors who want to know the details of their portfolio, and others who don’t care. In my experience, women and men are well-represented in all of these categories of personality.

Why do women under-index in traditional equity markets? Women have a lot more going on! Many women invest in their own ideas and their own businesses. Many women invest in themselves. And the causes and concerns that matter to them. Women invest to make a difference.

Barbara Stewart, CFA is one of the world’s leading researchers on women and finance. Barbara is an advocate for women, for diversity, and for financial education, both in public and as a consultant using her proprietary research skills to help large global financial institutions seeking to transform themselves. Barbara is a frequent interview guest on TV, radio and print, both financial and general interest, as well as a former columnist both in print and online for Postmedia newspapers in Canada. Barbara is a contributor to the CFA Institute’s Enterprising Investor website. For more information about Barbara’s research, please see www.barbarastewart.ca.