Equity Portfolio Diversification

William N. Goetzmann, Alok Kumar

NBER Working Paper No. 8686
Issued in December 2001
NBER Program(s):Asset Pricing

In this paper we examine the portfolios of more than 40,000 equity investment accounts from a large discount brokerage during a six year period (1991-96) in recent U.S. capital market history. Using the historical performance for the equities in these accounts, we find that a vast majority of investors in our sample are under-diversified. Even accounting for the likelihood we have selected on speculators, the magnitude of the diosyncratic risk taken by investors in our sample is surprising. Investors are aware of the benefits of diversification but they appear to adopt a 'naive' diversification strategy where they form portfolios without giving proper consideration to the correlations among the stocks. Over time, the degree of diversification among investor portfolios has improved but these improvements result primarily from changes in the correlation structure of the US equity market. Cross-sectional variations in diversification across demographic groups suggest that investors in low income and non-professional categories hold the least diversified portfolios. In addition, we find that young, active investors are over-focused and hold under-diversified portfolios. Overall, our results indicate that investors realize the benefits of diversification but they face a daunting task of 'implementing' and maintaining a well-diversified portfolio.

download in pdf format
   (1786 K)

email paper

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8686

Published: William N. Goetzmann & Alok Kumar, 2008. "Equity Portfolio Diversification," Review of Finance, Oxford University Press for European Finance Association, vol. 12(3), pages 433-463. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Lehmann and Modest w9461 Diversification and the Optimal Construction of Basis Portfolios
Ivkovich, Sialm, and Weisbenner w10675 Portfolio Concentration and the Performance of Individual Investors
French and Poterba w3609 Investor Diversification and International Equity Markets
Amadi and Bergin w12473 Understanding International Portfolio Diversification and Turnover Rates
Grinblatt and Keloharju w12223 Sensation Seeking, Overconfidence, and Trading Activity
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us