Risk Aversion

3d man , woman business . 3d illustrationAre we really more unwilling to take risks than men? And if we are, as a number of studies suggest, is that necessarily a bad thing or is it bad only in the eyes of high risk takers? It seems that women are just not that much reward-oriented, ready to do anything to get to the reward in question. How is this bad? Well, it may be bad in the perception of high risk-takers but in general, common sense would tell us that it’s not so negative a thing.

According to business author Bryce Covert, this risk aversion in women is partly a result of how they were socialized as children. Girls are seldom encouraged to take any kind of risk, unlike boys. At school age girls are encouraged to study, get good grades and not to challenge the rules. They also come to think that giving up on a difficult task is acceptable, again unlike boys, who are encouraged to do whatever it takes to get the results they are striving for. These are once more statistical findings from scientific research, not individual suggestions, so, with all this credibility, the issue begs the question of whether this higher risk aversion in women is not socially conditioned and can therefore be overcome. Covert says that there seems to be hardly any benefit to that. She cites examples of women in business employing aggressive, male strategies in their career and not getting the expected reward that men would get. It looks like it’s a no-win situation, so let’s go back to risk aversion itself. Why is it discussed like it’s something bad?

Well, the straight answer would be that we still live in a, superficially at least, a male-dominated culture. On the other hand, it’s fair to say that not all reading materials on the issue are in fact negative. Unwillingness to take risks, especially when it comes to money, may be a problem for brokers, but it’s a definite advantage for families that find it hard to set something aside between paychecks. And what is actually risk aversion? A Swiss study gives one explanation: risk aversion refers to the tendency in women to be more pessimistic about how likely they are to get a particular reward than men. Otherwise, the gender perceptions of the nature of this reward (or loss) were the same. Oh, well, they call it pessimistic, but someone else might call it realistic.

Optimism and self-confidence are all very good, they can do wonders for what we achieve in our lives but they can also confuse us into thinking that we can do more than our actual abilities allow us, that is, to take unreasonable risks. So, let’s ask an extreme question: What’s better — no risk-taking at all, or risking everything on a regular basis? Of course, neither extreme is acceptable but should it be considered a disadvantage if (and that’s a big if) more women tend to choose no risk-taking than men? Hardly. Besides, there is at least one study that suggests that the issue (if it is an issue at all) is not really risk aversion, it’s the researchers’ interpretation of risk aversion. Statistics, right? Can’t trust them. So, if you feel like investing in a high-risk financial product, by all means, go ahead. If, on the other hand, you don’t really want to give your boss the choice of either promoting you or letting you go this instant, don’t feel guilty about being indecisive and afraid to take risks. Patience is a virtue.