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EDITOR’S TAKE: Why women and old men can’t trade

In last Monday’s inaugural episode of the BBC’s make me a trader programme, conceived undoubtedly in the olden days when trading was a glamourous career rather than one whose practitioners live in daily fear for their survival, two things were amply clear: the woman and the older man were rubbish.

Out of eight would-be traders, only two were female and one of them sobbed for a full 90 minutes and was too neurotic to place a trade.

Meanwhile, the oldest wannabe – a 63 year old ex-IBM man – placed a buy order when he meant to sell and then bought into Bradford & Bingley on the cusp of its demise.

In one 60 minute programme, the BBC therefore illustrated a) why one London trading floor apparently has three women and two hundred men and b) why most traders retire before they’re 40.

The notion that young men do it best is backed up by research from Cambridge University showing links between testosterone and success in high frequency trading. With the possible exception of bearded women and Rupert Murdoch, testosterone is highest in 20-something males.

“Testosterone peaks at the age of 21 and drops over the course of your life. In your 40s it literally falls off a cliff,” says John Coates, the former Deutsche Bank trader leading the research.

Coates’ widely publicized research shows successful traders have often been exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb.

Exposure can be measured by comparing the lengths of the index and ring fingers on your right hand: if they’re roughly similar, you were born to be a day trader. “It’s hard to measure by sight – you’re best off photocopying your right hand and using a ruler,” Coates advises.

A more conspicuous indicator of current testosterone levels may well be acne. In the BBC’s programme, the 30-something man and “successful [hedge] fund manager” managing the novice team had a large boil on his cheek.

Masculine names may also be relevant – the ‘top City trader’ and former Goldman director stumping up the cash for the novices to work with is called ‘Lex Van Dam.’ Laura Smith doesn’t sound quite the same.

Comments (19)

  1. yes we can and we would not all be in this place if it was left to us to do all the trading.men ha ! they cant cook ,have children,cry or be bothered to understand what they were trading, they make me sick with all their macho posturing on the floor when we know damn well that they cant back it up with anything.

  2. Wow! Full marks for political incorrectness here!

  3. Hello Sarah,
    I really appreciate your work but please stop writing about stupid and rubbish subjects.
    Best Regards

  4. It could also easily argued that young men don’t make very good traders either if we look at the results of most every bank or fund over the past few years.

  5. I’m an ‘old’ man in my mid-forties and trade pretty well. I’d wager that the young man in the program who retired a millionaire at the age of 29 did so by riding the wave of rising markets when times were good. As Po said many, many funds have lost and are losing money like there’s no tomorrow.

    Staff and students at Cambridge University should stick to ‘pop’ subjects featured in tabloid newspapers.

  6. I think all the women commenting on this article should check their washing machine as the spin cycle might have completed.


    A research was also done recently where a 100 monkeys were taken to place trades on random stocks from an index and apparently their performance was not too far off that of broad index they were picking stocks from…I let you come out to a sensible conclusion..

  8. Cambridge people should stay in their little hole which they call the center of the Universe and have another cup tea, and let real world issues to real people. And trading can be done y anyone who has the energy, education, hard work and above all DISCIPLINE. Testosterone is good but becomes BAD many times f you cot control it, makes people gamblers instead of thinking disciplined decision makers and we all know the results of this kind of situation don’t we?)

  9. I think trading is a waste of the most formative years in a man’s life. Firstly, its a waste of talent in terms of one’s overall output to society, considering that anyone with some exceptional talent will his make his/her major breakthrough in his 20’s.
    Secondly, and even more importantly, its a waste of testosterone. I’m still in my 20’s and I can’t imagine dedicating my testosterone to trading 10 – 13 hrs a day.
    There are more carnal and exciting uses of such a hormone that would be most likely in scarce supply by the time the trader has made his millions and bought his ferari to impress the ladies.
    So if these traders are as talented as they claim, they could have had their cake and ate it. Try this..
    Acquire expert knowledge of a less demanding field where demand way outstrips supply. Hint: PhD in mathematics and IT based subject …(you can do this whilst enjoying other testosterone-related pleasures in life) then in your late 20’s – early 30’s establish yourself as a consultant.
    Result: you have enjoyed the most formative years of your life + your are now in demand ready to make ton of cash (Only a few traders will match or exceed your earnings if they retire at 40).

  10. Though his idea is good, “anonym” doesn’t realises how much traders can actually make…especially relative to a consultant. On the subject of age, there was an article somewhere showing the top performing traders – who usually are in hedge funds. It showed (in the top20 or 50) no guys below 30, the youngest (No4) being 34 and most of the others in their forties/fifties. This contradicts completely the “research study” of these cambridge guys.

    Ye Old & Grey Trader Reply
  11. why is it that the financial services industry (particularly trading) seems to attract the get-rich-quick types. I don’t understand the obsession with age, drive etc etc as if we are talking about champion racehorses. Are businesses built like this?

  12. Sarah. Sweetie. Can we talk? Was this a slow news day or what – you usually do much better than this. Testosterone is at its peak in men in their 20s and drops off in their 40s?! Wow, earthshattering research. I@m shocked and amazed at this little known information – LOL. Seriously, all the BBC did was reinforce dumb old stereotypes and attempted to justify it with “research” – and you for some reason treated it like it is newsworthy. You are a good writer and editor. Use your talents for something better please.

  13. Many of the top traders are oldies, having gleaned years of experience in banks. They trade for themselves away from the financial districts we know so well.

    As for the get-rich-quick types, they all, repeat, all, get wiped out and go back to their regular jobs.

  14. trying to establish a correlation between testosterone and skills in trading is just superficial really..almost as much as the relationship between the relative size of your fingers and your potential sucess in trading.




  16. there is only one reason why women cant trade, and that because of sexism on the trading floor which prevents women from climbing the corporate ladder without a good sponsor (very rare) and which obstructs women from being given the opportunites they deserve

  17. lola,the solution is simple.women start your own companies then you cannot complain about sexism

  18. pc stances aside, on average the stats are pretty clear and the pnls are pretty clear. no shame to sarah in stating it.

    one key exception sub-group is “very good” traders, who tend to be able to keep on keeping on into “later” life. (those who haven’t retired.)
    they also tend to be calm, thoughtful, non-aggressive types.
    but they are not the norm, outside hedgefunds.

    the amusing thing about people claiming that “sexism” prevents women traders succeeding is that it’s one of the most meritocratic professions on earth: you live and die by your pnl. i’ve only come across a few top-quality female traders, but they’re all doing VERY well for themselves.

  19. Look, the old guy was the first to go last night – he even admitted that it wasn’t working for him, so where’s the shame it that? He started badly, and went from one error/mistake/bad decision to the next. HE HAD TO GO! It’s all very well for Sarah to make these stereotypes about gender, but they simply don’t stand up to the evidence. So far, A WOMAN (yeah re-read that bit), is the best performer in the group. I’m putting my money on the shopkeeper or that hysterical girl to go next.

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