Women and Money: Slaying Stereotypes and Facing Reality

Do women need specialized personal-finance resources specific to our gender? That's what some financial advice books seem to imply. Slate writer Hannah Seligson points out that bookseller Amazon.com has a “money management for women” category, but no category specifically for men.

Some of the cheekier titles in the category include:

There seems to be a general theme around spending. Even as I was writing this post I saw an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where, to cover up his own overspending, Raymond blames his wife Debra for compulsive spending.

“I see the ways she dresses, and takes the kids to the mall,” says Raymond's mother right before pointing out Debra's “very nice outfit.” Everyone believes Ray's story that Debra is a compulsive shopper. But, in the end, it's Debra who stays up late to balance the checkbook and fix the family finances.

“And do you know why I do it, even though I really hate it?” she asks Raymond.

“Because you're an adult, and if it wasn't for you, all of this would be a big smoking crater,” he says. And that's true in many families. (It used to be true in J.D.'s family, for example.)

It's a prevalent stereotype that women love to shop, shop, shop — but is there any truth to it?

Not according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey measures the spending habits of U.S. consumers and includes data on expenditures, income, and demographic characteristics. Data shows that women and men spend about the same amount on wants — they just spend their discretionary funds differently. Women tend to spend more on their clothing than men, while men spend more on restaurants, audio/visual gadgets, and transportation.

Men vs. Women: Shopping Addiction
What about true shopoholics, or those with compulsive buying behavior? (Compulsive buying is characterized by uncontrolled urges to buy, and by adverse consequences from doing so.) Earlier studies have shown that compulsive buying affects from 1.8% to 16% of the adult U.S. population, with 90% of compulsive shoppers being women. (I was unable to locate the original studies citing these statistics — they seem to be widely reported without the original source listed. And, yes, that range from 1.8% to 16% is huge.)

In 2006, Dr. Lorrin Koran, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, conducted a nationwide random-sample household telephone survey. Over 2500 people rated their spending habits on a Compulsive Buying Scale. The study found that more than 5% of adults are compulsive buyers, and the incidence of compulsive buying behavior was similar between men and women (6% for women, 5.5% for men).

Where women are falling behind
The stats show that women aren't as flighty with their spending habits as commonly believed. At least, they're no more so than men. So what accounts for the female-focused personal finance advice?

One area where women do fall behind is retirement. It's not that they don't save or value retirement planning. TD Ameritrade's annual survey showed that 68% of women are resolving to save more money in 2011, compared to 62% of men. The Hartford Financial Services Group released hurdles women face in retirement before. Women live longer, yet they make less over their lifetimes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009 women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings that were about 80% of the earnings of their male counterparts. Women also are more likely to leave the workforce to care for children or family members. It's no wonder that many women feel less confident than men about meeting retirement goals.

Given this data, shouldn't personal finance books for women address the unique retirement issues they face?

Instead of advice on how to “shoo Jimmy Choo,” I'd like to see titles that offer advice like how to take off time to raise your kids without sacrificing your retirement. What about solutions to keep the stay-at-home mom abreast of changes in her industry so she isn't behind the times if she reenters the workforce? I'd like really focused, researched information about why women are less likely to negotiate their salaries, and psychological insights about how to overcome those fears and move up the corporate ladder. (Speaking of, I also found a book called The Girl's Guide to Being a Boss without Being a Bitch, yet no counterpart seems to exist for men. Instead all I found were books on how to work for a jerk and “manage your boss.”)

Of course there are money books for women out there with less cutesy titles, but to me, the sugar-coated personal finance books reinforce stereotypes and do the women who might pick them up a real disservice. Shopping isn't a problem unique to women, but lower lifetime earnings and longer lifespans are actual issues that need careful consideration.

My position is pretty obvious by now, so I'd love to turn this over to the GRS readers. What do you think about the types of personal finance books for women mentioned in this article? Are they valuable? Also, if there are any money books for women you've read, serious or silly in tone, share the titles and your thoughts on them.

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LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago

I think it holds some truth. Women tend to shop based on mood – it’s the same thing with eating. It’s a way for them to cope with something going on in their life.

Men, however, tend to buy things based on their neighbor. “What? The neighbor got a new boat? – Yeah, I would love a boat. Let’s go look at some!” Haha, I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth.

We all have our faults and we should each have a book tailored to our problems in personal finance.

Karen in MN
Karen in MN
9 years ago

I agree with April–there needs to be more financial advice for women that is based on women’s real needs, not just some stupid stereotype. In addition to what April mentioned, women are often left in desperate straights after a divorce. They usually end up raising the kids, and they are less likely to have invested in creating a financially viable career for themselves. Unfortunately, many women view even thinking about what they’d do if they got divorced as a threat to their marriage and values. They’ll buy life insurance to cover the low chance that either they or their spouse… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
9 years ago

I have read a lot of these. Let’s face it, there are more expenses for women. My husband pays $15 for his haircut and $5 for shampoo every few months, for example. I have much more personal expenses. I think it is easier for men to save because there is just less they need or want to buy.
The best book for women was Suze Orman’s Women and Money. It really lays out all the items women need to have in order, step by step, without assuming we are Shopaholics like some of those other titles.

chett daniel
chett daniel
9 years ago

I think the short answer to your question is no. There is so much information flying around on broad subjects via standard publications, ebooks, blogs, and traditional websites people have to focus their topics to niche groups. When this happens people usually discuss a broad topic and then find a way to spin it to their niche audience. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, I just think most of it is redundant. Even this blog is an example. How many personal finance blogs are out there? This one focuses on people who prefer to “Get Rich Slowly.”

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago

I believe the reason you can find female specific books on finance, but not male specific is because the default for books – while they now trend towards gender neutral – is still ‘male’.

bon
bon
9 years ago

I actually think there are lots of good resources for women out there; ‘Ask for It”, Suze’s books – so I don’t think there’s a gap in the market there.

Although it can be a stereotype – there are female shop-ahaulics and there are girlie-girls; if these books get people who wouldn’t normally think about personal finance to learn more because they are being marketed to, I see the good outweighing the cringe-inducing titles,

Pete
Pete
9 years ago

What Amanda said. It’s surprising to think that business and personal finance is still considered by default male, but I think this is evidence that it is. One thing that’s changing everything is the internet. Working at home or running a home business is becoming easier than ever, so combining raising children and working won’t be as much a conflict. Online, gender really doesn’t matter (you can use a gender-neutral name and avatar and nobody would even know), so it’ll make a lot of old stereotypes irrelevant, for female business-owners and those who work at home. Hopefully, that will help… Read more »

beforewisdom
beforewisdom
9 years ago

We live in a time with a diversity of subcultures and situations in the U.S..

There are middle aged women who can’t keep or get men because they earn so much money. There are also women the same age who have been supported by their husbands or parents their entire adult lives.

I think there is a market for both sets of books that April writes about.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

This is why I read blogs, not books 🙂 I find the same problem — that “women’s” financial books talk to me as if I spend all my money on clothes, shoes and beauty supplies (which I don’t) or I’m a mother running a household with husband and kids (which I’m not either). I’ve stopped thinking in terms of being a woman and started thinking in terms of being an individual. I consider my lifespan, earnings and maternity leave as factors in my planning, but these days are they unique to women? I don’t think so. It’s possible i’ll earn… Read more »

Kestra
Kestra
9 years ago

I don’t like how the books mentioned seem to imply that most women’s financial issues just come from over-shopping. There are much deeper issues that society doesn’t want to address. How about being too reliant on your husband for income/retirement? I think women are too trusting. I have a co-worker who admits she shops too much, but she also said that her husband is her “retirement-plan” and that they didn’t have a will, 10 years into marriage with 2 young children. Those second items are much more serious to me than some excess shopping. I think women are socialized to… Read more »

Rachel
Rachel
9 years ago

While the titles you mention irk me, I have read and loved both Joanne Yaccato’s “Balancing Act” and David Bach’s “Smart Women Finish Rich”. Both of them discuss the start-and-stop nature of women’s working lives, both of them discuss how women need to save more for retirement, and neither of them even consider shopping.

I guess my answer is, of course there’s a need for women-oriented finance books, but there’s never a need for gender-role-based crap.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Fantastic article, April! Thank you so much for this and for doing solid research on this topic. This is the best article I’ve read on GRS in quite a while. If I recall correctly, Smart women finish rich does do a good job of addressing actual (on average) differences between men and women without going into stereotypes (like Rachel #11 says). Of course, it really isn’t much different than Smart couples finish rich or any other David Bach book with a differentiated title, maybe 20% different stuff. And don’t forget the classic Babcock book, Women don’t ask. I would be… Read more »

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

Thanks, April for this post! I’ve felt that a lot of finance books geared toward women tend to “talk down” to us, categorizing and stereotyping as they go along! In a post modern society that moves more and more every day towards being more “inclusive” it is still ludicrous to find women largely left out, or, for the very least, pigeonholed. I’ve found too, as I’ve read some of the more popular finance books out there that they are most definitely geared toward men. I’ve found this truly insulting and highly irritating. Gender neutrality it seems, is difficult to maintain.… Read more »

Bev
Bev
9 years ago

I wonder if some of the “shopaholic” label gets put on women because a large number of them that have husbands and children do end up doing the majority of the shopping for the whole family. They buy groceries, toiletries, clothes, home furnishings for themselves and maybe 2,3,4 or more other people. That, by necessity, entails alot of shopping. Personally, I don’t know too many men that buy shampoo, underwear, and clothes for themselves or their children (or wives). But I do know many women who buy all that and more for everyone in their household. Just a thought….

Kelly Shikany
Kelly Shikany
9 years ago

I completely agree with your position that those titles are ridiculous. BUT, if they get one women to pick them up and decide to contribute to an IRA, or to review the beneficiary designation on a life insurance policy, it will be worth the humor that is intended. What is needed is the beginning of the conversation on finances and valuing a womens worth to society both at home and away. I recommend readers pick up Eleanor Blayneys book Womens Worth. It is excellent.

Jean Chatzky
Jean Chatzky
9 years ago

I wrote a pf book for women because we need the advice more than men — we still earn less (on average), amass fewer retirement dollars, and need that money to last longer because we live longer — and historically haven’t gotten it. The spending piece breaks down this way: New research shows that women aren’t any more likely to be excessive spenders than men are. We do buy different things. Us: Clothing and gifts. Them: Technology and gadgets. But we also do 80 percent of the spending, so if you look at the dollars in the overall, we’re doing… Read more »

Trina
Trina
9 years ago

I couldn’t agree with you more! This is a great article! I’d like to see it on one of the mainstream news sites, like MSN money, etc.

Thanks!

Just one nitpick, which I hope you will find helpful:
In the “Men Vs. Women: Shopping Addiction” section you forgot an “s” on “affects”

compulsive buying _affect_ from 1.8% to 16% of the adult U.S. population

HollyP
HollyP
9 years ago

As long as they have good content, any book that will educate people about their finances is good no matter how silly the title. I do agree with the need for more education about retirement, though I believe both genders could use help with this. (But yes, generally speaking women face more lifetime hurdles.) I’ve never seen a personal finance book which delved deeply into negotiating skills, but it is a great idea. I’m a perfect example of the need for it. Wife.org is a decent website geared toward women who haven’t controlled the family finances and are coping with… Read more »

shorty j
shorty j
9 years ago

what Amanda said. It’s tantamount to saying “well there’s Lifetime: television for WOMEN, now where’s the television for MEN?” (or, if you want to get truly ridiculous, “how come there’s BET but no WET?” :P) in addition, I suspect that a lot of “shopaholic” statistics involve some degree of self-reporting. I would suspect there is a gendered element to those who label as “shopaholics” and/or seek treatment for it. I’d be interested to see if there’s some sort of statistical disparity in the WAY spending is gendered. Ex. If women may tend to buy more items (clothes, whatever), but men… Read more »

KC
KC
9 years ago

Women do face certain financial challenges. As someone above mentioned women tend to be more financially devastated after divorce than men – they also end up with the child care. Although I don’t know if this is fact it does seem to be what I have witnessed. It is fact that women outlive men. We need to prepare for this. You need to know your family’s finances and be prepared to take them over upon the death of a spouse. Men also face gender specific issues – like leaving their spouse/family in good financial shape given an earlier demise. Traditionally… Read more »

Shari
Shari
9 years ago

Bev (#13) you are right on! I don’t know any families where the man goes out and does the shopping for the family. I know a single father who has his mother do all the shopping for his family. I’m going to do a little stereotyping myself here and say most men don’t like to shop for their families. My husband has no clue what size our kids are and what clothes they need. I buy all his clothes too…not sure what he would wear if I didn’t keep replacing his worn-out things for him. I do buy more clothes… Read more »

Karen in MN
Karen in MN
9 years ago

I agree with shorty j—I also guess that the kinds of things that people buy vary in a statistically significant way with gender. When I was married, we had separate accounts. And it is true that my ex-husband paid for the mortgage while I paid for everything else. The reason we split it this way was that he couldn’t be bothered (or relied upon) to keep track of all the individual bills and pay them on time, and he also couldn’t be bothered to go out and purchase groceries, TP, light bulbs and other household supplies. Naturally, when we split… Read more »

APF
APF
9 years ago

I can’t speak for the content of those books, as I haven’t read them – but one thing to consider is marketing. I haven’t seen sales figures, but I assume that cutesy shopping-related titles are a marketing strategy aimed at increasing sales. If it is effective, then the target audience identifies with these stereotypes. That doesn’t mean the content should reinforce stereotypes, however. If they purport to provide personal finance advice they better do that. Most of what’s out there for personal finance advice isn’t gender-specific…numbers are numbers, and good ideas are good ideas regardless of your sex. I do… Read more »

Emily
Emily
9 years ago

I dislike the stereotype that most of women’s financial issues come from overshopping and the notion that women shop more than men. I don’t think they do. They just shop differently. My husband goes on a field trip to CompUSA every weekend. He doesn’t always buy something, but about half the time he does. He loves computer stuff, the same way that some women love shoes. The challenge of women and careers/retirement saving/lifetime earnings is a tricky one. On the one hand, it’s wrong and unfair to assume that because a hard worker is a woman, she is more likely… Read more »

ami | 40daystochange
ami | 40daystochange
9 years ago

When I first lived on my own, and I went to the hardware store to look for a hammer, I saw a ‘ladies’ tool chest’ for sale, complete with the basics – hammer, wrench, screwdriver, etc. – all in ladylike mini sizes and with cheap pink plastic handles. Yuck! The irony is that lightweight tools make the job harder for women, who often have less upper body strength than men (at least I do). Some of the titles you mention remind me of those cute pink tools. (Addicted to Shopping??? Jeez) I do believe women have distinct financial needs. So… Read more »

Janette
Janette
9 years ago

The first (and bible) finance book I read was by Jane Bryant Quinn- suggested to me by my female stock broker – who had been left high and dry by her lawyer husband (that she had put through law school). It was the late ’70s and Anne was determined I would never be in the same spot. She insisted that we begin saving for MY retirement since my husband would have a pension. My “retirement” money bought our first house for cash- and is at a pretty penny now. I never read the “fluffy” looking money books. Not even Suzi-… Read more »

Elizabeth Jetton
Elizabeth Jetton
9 years ago

I have worked with women for almost 30 years as a certified financial planner, and of course, I AM a woman, so I can draw from both experiences. The lack of confidence I believe has a tangible impact on women’s financial decision making that can be costly. And as you point out, there are challenges that are unique to women due to our biology, public policies and lingering social expectations. I see many families in dire financial straits not due to low income, but due to poor income management and lack of consciousness or systems for managing spending. So frankly… Read more »

MR
MR
9 years ago

If there are any women who do some semi-foolish thing, X, there will be articles decrying women and how foolish they are for doing X. Then, even women who do X in a most sober and responsible way will have their choices and decisions commented on by others and called a “silly Xer.” For instance, LifeAndMyFinances, when psychologists do studies on emotional eating, they find that there is no correlation between emotional eating and weight. However, overweight women are told that their problem is emotional eating, forgetting the fact that skinny women eat emotionally as well. The problem is when… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

@20 Emily. When I took Women in the Economy in college, one of the striking statistics in the textbook was that men and women are EQUALLY likely to leave a job. The difference: women are more likely to leave for family responsibilities. Men are more likely to leave for a competitor. At least in the 1990s, women were more likely to stay at one job conditional on being working, whereas men were more likely to job hop. As an employer, which would you rather have? It is just more available, easier to remember, when women get big with a child,… Read more »

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

Thank you for these thoughts. I think they are spot on. Love, a SAHM.

Suzie Bee
Suzie Bee
9 years ago

Your average “PF for women” book makes me want to vomit. It assumes that women spend so much on shoes and handbags that they can’t pay the rent each month and just assume they’ll be able to flutter their eyelids and get by, or else hide it all under the carpet, a la “Confessions of a Shopaholic”. Women are humans just as much as men, with competent brains. However, one must, as Sarah the commenter said, think about the difference between personal expenses. Women’s haircuts are more expensive and we are just expected to wear makeup.

Mom of five
Mom of five
9 years ago

Although many women I know are quite frugal, I do think the spendy woman generality is sometimes valid. I would argue not that there shouldn’t be so many financial books geared exclusively toward women, but that there should be more aimed exclusively toward men. I’ve known plenty of men who’ve had an unhealthy need to keep up with the Joneses and to spend lavishly on the women in their lives. Those guys could use some books too. I also think Bev makes a good point about the stereotype of the spendy woman being more known than the stereotype of the… Read more »

ali
ali
9 years ago

The worst shopaholic I’ve known was a guy, at one point he had his home filled and 4 storage units filled. He was constantly juggling money to try and make all the payments and using one credit card to make minimum payments on the other. When all this was going on he was still making purchases – most of it through eBay but he’d find good “deals” or go to garage sale and pick things up. I know at one point he managed to get down to 3 storage units, but then do to his compulsive shopping and bad money… Read more »

Mom, Ph.D.
Mom, Ph.D.
9 years ago

Great post. I’d like to see more financial advice books for dual-income families of preschool age children. My colleague is agonizing about the $20k/yr college expense he is about to incur through his daughter. Meanwhile, when both my kids were in preschool, we were paying $24k/yr. So many warnings about saving for kids’ college (which we do). But how to finance preschool? I think the assumed default is the woman stalls her career to stay at home. But many women don’t do this. With my career, there is no taking time out for 5-7 years and then jumping back in.… Read more »

The Quest
The Quest
9 years ago

I agree with your perspective. I have never bought a book specifically aimed at women mainly because of the sexist slant. I read the unisex classics that speak to ‘everyone’.

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

I think there is a need for gender specific books. Culturally, there are still stereotypes played on by the media and in the financial planning industry influencing our ideas about spending and the place of money in our lives. In North America, at least, this may be the first generation of women who are truly working to be independent of men regarding their finances (whether they are married or living together or single) and carving their own path to retirement. This is a real shift. Historically, that was not possible. In the past, men usually took care of the “big… Read more »

Jesse Kelsey
Jesse Kelsey
9 years ago

The best personal finance book that I read several years ago is by a woman author, Suze Orman, and is called The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, & Broke. It does not, in my opinion, reinforce stereotypes of men or women, but is targeted to the strengths of young people and building wealth.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

@38… not a big fan of YF&B. She really pushes living off your credit cards and accruing debt when you’re young. (Don’t finance your Jimmy Choos, she says, but it is difficult to see where the line on too much spending really belongs.) @37 Historically, that’s actually not true. I strongly recommend reading Claudia Goldin’s amazing book, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women for more information about women in the labor market in the US. There has always been a segment of women who have had to work, whether married or not, and prior to the… Read more »

Bridget
Bridget
9 years ago

Great post. As a woman very interested in personal finance, I’m very concerned about saving for retirement especially when I plan to stay home with my future children. I really wish the working world was more forgiving to mothers. I’m a highly educated, hard-working young woman, but having a family is a huge priority for me and leaving the workforce to do so will probably alter my career path permanently. Ionia a lot of people think you can “do both”, but you really can’t. Not without extreme sacrifices like delaying having children or choosing to have less children or settling… Read more »

Bridgette
Bridgette
9 years ago

I have to agree with Nicole. YF&B is an ok book for the basics, but I dont like how it encourages young people to take on debt. I think that Suze has changed her focus some since she wrote that book – but I still question her opinions on the “can I afford it” section of her show.

Mimms
Mimms
9 years ago

I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw those girly titles and thought of pink tools -though, in my case, I thought of the pink microscopes I saw in the toy aisles. Two things – wait, three things – occurred to me that were potentially interesting to others. First, a book recommendation: Elizabeth Warren’s “The Two Income Trap.” her research is a fascinating look into bankruptcy, and he did find some interestingly tendered correlations. The one that stuck with me was that the most reliable indicator for whether an individual woman would go through bankruptcy was whether or not… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

I want a guest post from Nicole! This one was good – a discussion on the different media approaches to men and women as regards financial topics is definitely needed – but historical context would be oh so helpful.

NatalieMac
NatalieMac
9 years ago

I think that there are definitely some special considerations regarding finances for women vs. men, and it’s important to address those. Women are still only making 82 cents to every dollar earned by a man, have careers that tend to be a lot more disrupted by family, and additionally are still facing glass ceilings in many industries. (93% of people with my job title are men – 93!) That said, there’s a big difference between addressing real issues and playing on stereotypes for the sake of making a quick dollar. There’s also a big difference between books with useful information… Read more »

Andrea @ Consultant Journal
Andrea @ Consultant Journal
9 years ago

Women face financial circumstances that are not necessarily faced by men. These include: – glass ceiling – family status discrimination, including discrimination in advance of ever having a family – less opportunity for physically demanding jobs that pay well for low skilled work – pregnancy – post partum recovery – time out of the paid workforce for raising families (some men do this, but it’s less common in countries where there is no paternity leave) – family responsibility often defaults to women (taking kids to appts, attending school activities, etc) – women often make work choices that reflect the balancing… Read more »

Claudia M.
Claudia M.
9 years ago

Women aren’t the only ones whom experience niche marketing in the world of personal finance. Minorities do as well. From Girl, Get Your Credit Straight! to Se habla dinero?: The Everyday Guide to Financial Success, there are an incredible amount of personal finance books available to traditionally underserved markets. Having read mainstream personal finance books and niche PF books based on gender, age, religion, or ethnicity, I can report that they are all redundant. Spend less than you earn, contribute heartily to retirement plans, always have a financial plan, give back to others, and contribute to your child’s college savings… Read more »

Samantha
Samantha
9 years ago

@26 Janette “I feel for my daughter as she struggles- knowing that she is very bright and could make a lot of money- but choosing to raise the next generation. WE fund her IRA right now- as her Christmas and birthday gifts.” This is really interesting. Why do you “feel” for your daughter – do you think she shouldn’t’ve stayed home? Why are you funding her IRA, rather than her husband? (If one is in the picture. I apologize for the assumption, and no offense intended, but I presume SAHM are financially supported by a partner.) Do you prioritize contributing… Read more »

NTrick
NTrick
9 years ago

Long-time reader, first time poster because this topic is dear to my heart.

I am the target audience for these books and I have picked up a number of these over the past few years. Waste of time – I’m a person first.

The only female-focused financial book that helped me was “Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich” http://www.amazon.com/Nice-Girls-Dont-Get-Rich/dp/044657709X

The other helpful books were either general audience; focused on an age segment; or focused on an aspect of building wealth.

elisabeth
elisabeth
9 years ago

The cultural narratives/stereotypes really vary over time and cultures. My mother, like many women with her cultural/class background, was totally in control of the family money — her wage-earner husband (my father) got an allowance, while she kept the books, paid the bills, and, to a large extent, made the financial decisions.
But that was a working class narrative; I think than for the most of US history, the more money there was in a relationship, the more likely it was that the male controlled it, but when money was limited, women were sometimes in control.

Pat S.
Pat S.
9 years ago

I read recently that women, in fact, have some distinct advantages when it comes to investing. Studies have shown that female investors are less apt to buy high and sell low, and are more able to analytically judge a stock based on fundamentals rather than emotion, and will generally outperform men in stock picking. Just thought it was interesting.

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