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Who Invests in ETFs?

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Households owning exchange-traded funds fall on the younger side than households holding mutual funds outside of retirement accounts — aka “retail mutual fund households.” They’re also more comfortable and confident online, and are fine with making their own investment decisions.

So says a report from the Investment Company Institute and Strategic Business Insights, which finds that while just 7% of U.S. households reported recent or ongoing ownership of ETFs in the 2016–17 MacroMonitor Survey, 21% of ETF-owning households were headed by a person younger than 40 years old, compared with 15% of retail mutual fund households.

In addition, just 36% of ETF households were headed by someone aged 60 or older, compared with 52% of retail mutual fund households.

ETF households also tend toward being more highly educated, the report finds, with 66% of ETF households reporting at least one college degree. That’s compared with 56% of retail mutual fund households and 34% of all U.S. households. ETF households also tended to have higher incomes, although households across all income groups report ETF ownership.

More ETF households are in early or middle stages of life than mutual fund households, and are more likely to be single or have children at home (34% have kids, while 9% say they’re single with no children and not retired). Just 26% of retail mutual fund households report children at home.

ETF households also gravitate more toward discount brokers than to full-service firms, with 11% of ETF households saying that their discount broker is actually their primary financial institution. Only 2% of retail mutual fund households say that, although both groups are more likely to feel that banks are their primary financial institution (52% of ETF households, 57% of retail mutual fund households).

Robo-advisors are better known to ETF households, which are also more likely to take financial risks, make investment decisions comfortably and are happy enough to do things online.

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