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Investor Familiarity With Sustainable Investing Remains Low - Gallup Poll

Story Highlights

  • One in four U.S. investors have heard much about sustainable investing
  • Four in 10 have heard nothing about it, similar to 2020
  • Investor interest in the concept remains lower than it was before pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A recent Gallup survey of U.S. adults with $10,000 or more in investments finds no change over the past year in these investors' awareness of sustainable investing -- also known as "responsible investing," "social impact investing," or "environmental, social and governance" investing. A quarter of investors say they have heard a lot (6%) or a fair amount (19%) about this type of investing. Another third have heard a little about it, while four in 10 have heard nothing.

Line graph. Trend from February 2020 through June 2021 in U.S. investors' awareness of sustainable investing, also known as environmental, social and governance investing; responsible investing; and social impact investing. The percentage who have heard a lot or a fair amount about this type of investing is 25% in June 2021, similar to the 20% to 25% found across three surveys in 2020.

Current awareness of sustainable investing is on par with Gallup's 2020 readings, with a quarter reporting they had heard a lot or a fair amount about this type of investing in February and May surveys, while slightly fewer had heard this much in August.

The latest results are based on the second quarter Gallup Investor Optimism Index survey, conducted June 22-29. For this survey, investors are defined as adults 18 and older who have $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds, either within or outside of a retirement account. Approximately four in 10 U.S. adults meet this criterion.

Awareness of sustainable investing is higher among male, younger and wealthier investors than among their counterparts. There is no difference by whether one has a financial adviser, either paid or unpaid.

U.S. Investor Awareness of Sustainable Investing, by Key Subgroup

A lot/Fair amount Only a little Nothing % % % Total 25 34 41 Gender Male 33 35 31 Female 17 33 49 Age 18 to 49 30 31 39 50 to 64 21 35 43 65 and older 21 36 43 Household income $90,000+ 29 36 35 Less than $90,000 19 32 50 Investments $100,000+ 27 38 35 Less than $100,000 21 28 51 Have personal financial adviser Yes, paid 24 34 41 Yes, unpaid 20 37 43 No adviser 26 34 40 Based on U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, with $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds Gallup Panel, June 22-29, 2021

Investor Interest in Sustainable Investing Is Down From Before the Pandemic

Investors' interest in sustainable investing is significantly lower than it was just before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

After initially dipping from 52% in February 2020 to 46% in May and staying at that level in August, the percentage who are very or somewhat interested is now 42%. Meanwhile, the percentage not at all interested has increased from 18% to 28%, and the 29% "not too interested" has stayed about the same.

Line graph. Trend from February 2020 through June 2021 in U.S. investors interest in sustainable investing funds. The percentage very or somewhat interested declined from 52% last February to 46% in May 2020 and is 42% today. Meanwhile the percentage not at all interested rose from 18% in February 2020 to 28% today.

The survey doesn't address what has dampened investors' interest in sustainable investing. While it may reflect less desire to use their investments to address societal issues at a fragile time, economically, it could simply reflect investors' broader wariness of exposing themselves to market risk. Evidence for the latter hypothesis comes from the first quarter survey, which found 60% of investors saying they are holding back money they could invest in the stock market and keeping it in cash instead. This was mostly because of fear of a market downturn or because they needed the money for other things.

Compared with February 2020, investor interest in sustainable investing has fallen the most among some groups that were initially the most interested -- women, Democrats and, to a lesser extent, higher-asset investors.

On the other hand, investors aged 18 to 49, who were drawn to sustainable investing the most of all age groups last February, have largely retained their interest, while interest among older investors has fallen.

These declines in interest by demographic group have happened gradually over the past 18 months rather than being apparent only in the latest results.

Change in Investor Interest in Sustainable Investing From Before Pandemic

% Very/Somewhat interested

Feb 10-16, 2020 Jun 22-29, 2021 Change % % pct. pts. Total 52 42 -10 Gender Male 44 42 -2 Female 59 42 -17 Age 18 to 49 61 58 -3 50 to 64 45 33 -12 65 and older 47 32 -15 Investments $100,000+ 55 42 -13 Less than $100,000 50 43 -7 Party ID Democrats 77 62 -15 Independents 53 45 -8 Republicans 23 15 -8 Based on U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, with $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds Gallup Panel

As of today, interest in sustainable investing is similar by gender and investor class; at the same time, it differs strongly by political party and age. Roughly six in 10 Democrats versus fewer than two in 10 Republicans are at least somewhat interested. Also, investors aged 18 to 49 are nearly twice as likely as those 50 and older to be interested.

Investor Interest in Sustainable Investing, June 2021

Very/Somewhat interested Not too interested Not interested at all % % % Total 42 30 28 Gender Male 42 28 30 Female 42 31 27 Age 18 to 49 58 23 20 50 to 64 33 35 31 65 and older 32 33 36 Household income $90,000+ 44 30 25 Less than $90,000 39 30 31 Investments $100,000+ 42 30 29 Less than $100,000 43 28 29 Party ID Democrats 62 20 18 Independents 45 34 21 Republicans 15 37 48 Based on U.S. investors, aged 18 and older, with $10,000 or more in stocks, bonds or mutual funds Gallup Panel, June 22-29, 2021

Investors Expect Sustainable Investment Returns To Follow Market Average

Most investors, 70%, believe sustainable investing funds generally perform on par with the market average, but many more still think they perform worse (25%) than say they perform better (5%), as was the case in 2020.

The balance of views at the margins is a bit less negative among women, younger investors and Democrats than their counterparts. These groups are only somewhat more likely to believe sustainable investing funds perform worse than the market average, rather than better. However, the vast majority of all groups still say they perform the same.

Investors' Perceptions of How Sustainable Investing Funds Perform

Do you believe sustainable investing funds generally perform better, the same or worse than the market average?

Better The same Worse Net better % % % pct. pts. Total 5 70 25 -20 Gender Male 4 66 30 -26 Female 7 73 20 -13 Age 18 to 49 8 68 24 -16 50 to 64 5 72 23 -18 65 and older 2 69 29 -27 Party ID Republican 2 62 36 -34 Independent 4 68 28 -24 Democrat 9 76 15 -6 Based on U.S. investors, aged 18+, with $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds Gallup Panel, June 22-29, 2021

Investors' reports that they have money invested in sustainable investing funds remain similar to last year, with 9% now, compared with an average 12% in 2020, saying they do. Roughly half (48%) say they do not have any money invested in such funds, while 43% are unsure.

Bottom Line

Sustainable investing has become increasingly relevant in the investing community writ large as the call for companies to disclose metrics allowing investors to evaluate their environmental, social and corporate governance performance has intensified. Investments with a sustainable investment component are also multiplying. For instance, according to nasdaq.com, "ESG-integrated strategies assets under management" listed on that exchange grew 34% between 2018 and 2020.

Despite its growing importance in the capital markets, news about sustainable investing or ESG funds has not trickled down to average U.S. investors. And with the pandemic perhaps shifting investors' economic priorities, they are expressing less interest in such funds for themselves. Still, the future of sustainable investing looks promising, with younger investors paying closer attention to it and expressing greater interest than older working-age investors and retirees.

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Learn more about how the Gallup Investor Optimism Index works.