Baltimore lawyer Teri Menke began learning about finances from her father when she was 8 and started investing on her own through her 401(k)at her first job out of law school.
She invests in stocks outside the plan, too, sometimes doing her own research but also relying on the advice of a professional. The 28-year-old doesn't expect to receive Social Security benefits unless the program is reformed but figures she's financially responsible for her own retirement anyway.
Menke, who briefly flirted with the idea of day-trading, is not afraid of market risk. "No one else depends on me. If I do lose, I will be upset, but it's not like my kids can't go to school," said Menke, who is single.
In many ways, Menke represents the new generation of female investors.
A study of four generations of women last year by the National Center for Women and Retirement Research found that members of the youngest group, Generation X, are more likely to seek outside resources for financial help, to better understand market risk and the need for a financial plan, and to expect to take care of their own finances and investing.
Other studies, too, have found that younger women are investing at an earlier age and are more likely to be encouraged to learn about investing when growing up than older women were.
`Breath of fresh air'
"That's the generation I have a lot of confidence in," said Christopher Hayes, executive director of the Retirement Research Center in Southampton, N.Y. "Prince Charming is not being factored into their financial plan. That's a breath of fresh air."
When Hayes started researching women's financial behavior 15 years ago, investment companies weren't interested in women, he said. That has changed. Women make up 46 percent of the work force, and investment companies pursue their business.
Women's attitudes and investing behavior have been studied and dissected by investment firms. The results are mixed. Some studies show that women are becoming more knowledgeable investors. Others indicate that women have a way to go and lag behind their male counterparts.
OppenheimerFunds, a mutual fund company in New York, was one of the first to study female investors, releasing its initial study in 1992 and an update five years later.
Comparing the results of the studies, Oppenheimer found that women had become more interested in investing. Forty-one percent in the more recent study knew stocks provided the best return over the decades, up from 31 percent earlier, and women were less likely than before to believe that their financial future would depend on the government, a corporation or a spouse.
Fifty-four percent of women ages 21 to 34 said they had been encouraged to learn more about investing while growing up. That compares with 35 percent of women 55 and older.
Charles Schwab & Co., which recently began targeting women through a Web site and programs geared for them, found some encouraging and disturbing trends in its study this year.
Most men and women of Generation X started investing at age 23, often as a result of a 401(k) at work. Those ages 65 to 79 didn't get started until almost age 40.
Less confident than men
But women across generations are less confident about their investing abilities than men are, and women were twice as likely as men to say investing is scary. Generation X women are just as likely as elderly women to find investing scary. And men and women tended to agree that men are better investors.
"The most surprising to us was the ... lack of confidence remains the same across the generations" of women despite the strides they have made in other aspects of life, said Carrie Schwab Pomerantz, vice president of consumer education and daughter of company founder Charles Schwab.
From his research, Hayes said he was most worried about baby boomer women. Many women in that group have not figured out how much they will need for retirement to achieve the lifestyle they want, he said. Also, they often started families later than previous generations and are now saddled with competing goals.
"It's the first generation that is trying to save for their own retirement, put children through college and address and deal with the financial realities of their parents," said Hayes, who predicts that 18 million baby boomer women will be at financial risk in retirement. Currently, 2.2 million women 65 and older live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Though the studies reveal mixed results, financial experts agree that investing principles are the same for men and women. Women, however, have different planning considerations.
They tend to live seven years longer than men, on average make 77 cents for every $1 a man earns and are likely to quit work for a time to care for children or ailing parents. For every year a woman is out of the work force, she must work three years to make up the lost contributions and investment gains in an employer's retirement plan, Hayes said.