Just as our peers can influence what movies we go to or where we go on holiday, our research suggests that Australians’ superannuation investment decisions are influenced by our work colleagues.
If a superannuation fund member is at a workplace where a lot of colleagues make changes to their investment strategy, this significantly increases the likelihood that they themselves will make a change.
But the gender makeup of the workplace also matters. In a workplace where the majority of workers are male, men tend to be more active in managing their superannuation. Where the majority of workers are female, women are more active.
However, women are less active with their superannuation when more men are in the office.
That our peers influence our decisions suggests that social context is important in financial decisions. This fits with previous studies that identified social norms (such as ideas over what is approved or disapproved of) as important factors when forming investment strategies for retirement savings.
There may also be an element of social learning that explains the influence of our peers on superannuation decisions. Managing superannuation is complex and time-consuming, so making comparisons with others makes decisions easier and alleviates some of the uncertainty that stems from making complex decisions.
In male-dominated workplaces, the women appear to behave in ways that are in direct contrast to their male co-workers. The more active their male colleagues are with their superannuation, the less likely the women are to change their superannuation investment strategy.
Even though we have found a link between the likelihood of an individual making an investment strategy change and the behaviour of their peers, we don’t know the strength of this link.
Our study suggests that superannuation funds and trustees can use our peers to influence our super decisions.
This should make us reflect on what influences our investment choices. Did your peers influence the choices? Did the gender makeup of the workplace influence your choice? How does the perception of others’ behaviour impact investment decisions? Asking these questions will give insight into how we make these important choices.
Our research suggests there may be flow-on effects from information sessions and other information given out by superannuation funds. If this information is taken on by members, it can have impact beyond those who attend these seminars or search fund websites.
The influence of peers is not necessarily good or bad. Our plan is to investigate this next – what are the outcomes for members who are influenced by their peers to make certain choices?
If super funds and trustees are aware of the effect our peers have on us, then they also need to be wary of how the gender balance of our workplaces might in fact lead to less active management of our super.
Authors: Carly Moulang, Senior Lecturer, Monash University