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Women live longer, earn lower wages and are often less financially savvy and confident than men. But studies and surveys show that women's ability to save, focus on life goals and become educated on money matters makes them better investors.

Experts say that women's tendency to be conservative, to seek out and follow advice, as well as to stay the course when times get tough, add up to better returns and a winning combination in retirement.

"Men react more, women reflect more," says Adrian Mastracci, a fee-only portfolio manager and financial adviser at KCM Wealth Management in Vancouver. "It's no secret that women live longer than men. This is one key reason for women to plan early and wisely."

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Women who retire at 60 to 65 can often enjoy 25 to 30 years of retirement, which is an average of three to five years more than men. That means they require 7 to 10 per cent additional retirement capital, too, Mr. Mastracci explains. "Widowhood could force women to become totally responsible for their financial well-being."

Planning for women therefore takes on new dimensions, and advising them is different than with men, Mr. Mastracci says. "They truly value the adviser who is a good listener," he explains. "They want to work with the adviser who clearly understands their issues."

Women control more than 51 per cent of the personal wealth in the United States, and that is predicted to rise to 67 per cent by 2020, according to a study by Fidelity Investments. They are growing in number as breadwinners and make 80 per cent of household buying decisions, including whom to hire for financial advice.

Meanwhile women tend to invest less aggressively than men, looking to preserve wealth. They take their time and seek help when making investment decisions. Indeed, the male hormone testosterone skews men's investing style, says John Coates, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, making them more likely to take risks, while women are less prone to "irrational exuberance" in investing.

"Women are eager to learn, and they're not afraid to ask questions," observes Tina Tehranchian, a certified financial planner at Assante Wealth Management Ltd. in Richmond Hill, Ont. She runs seminars on women and money and holds an annual event focused on women's health and wealth. "The more an investor knows about what they're investing in, the pros and cons involved, the more prepared he or she is going to be when the tough times come along."

Men like to trade more and attempt to time the markets, Ms. Tehranchian says. "In the back of their minds, they think they're going to be able to beat the markets, which is usually a fantasy."

Women are often afraid of volatility and losing money, "even if it's on paper," she allows. A lot of wealthy women suffer from "bag-lady syndrome," she says. She's had millionaire female clients fearing they will lose it all. "I hardly have a man in the same wealth category worried about ending up on the street."

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Despite – or because of – this inherent conservatism, women are more successful investors, she notes, with studies showing they earn 1 per cent more over time. "That's huge," she says.

They have a long-term approach and are less apt than men to "pull the trigger" when the market falls, Ms. Tehranchian says. "They know it's going to go up again."

Women who once would have left the task of looking after the money to their husbands are more inclined to take it on themselves, especially given that the average age they become widows is 57, she points out.

Women tend to focus on "life events" and priorities such as educating their children or paying off the mortgage, rather than achieving a particular dollar amount, as men do, says Sandra Abdool, a regional financial planning consultant at RBC Financial Planning in Burlington, Ont. "It's a subtle shift in thinking."

Women tend to stay the course in investments because their goals don't change when the markets are volatile, she adds. "If you're focused on the numbers, you may be more inclined to change your view of the future."

Men typically tinker with investments, says Mr. Mastracci, incurring unnecessary commissions and generating losses and gains to deal with, while women investors are more at ease. "If it makes sense, they leave it alone."

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While investors should revisit their holdings and strategies periodically, "don't tinker for the sake of tinkering. … You can second-guess to death," he says. Men often think of themselves "as the portfolio manager or the guiding light," which makes them prone to investment bias, thinking they know more than they do.

Women look for advice in plain language because they have less time to be involved in their finances as they juggle daily priorities. "They need a game plan they can live with," Mr. Mastracci says.

In the couples who engage his financial planning services, the women are often reticent at first but quickly warm to the idea of taking the reins financially, he adds. "Six months after we meet, you don't know who's driving."

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