The best-performing mutual fund managers, on average, are the ones who grew up in the poorest families.
You read that right: The best managers on Wall Street, that bastion of the 1%, are more often than not from families at the poorest end of the socioeconomic spectrum.
That at least is the fascinating finding of a recently published study from the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. The authors — Denis Sosyura, a finance professor at the University of Michigan, and Oleg Chuprinin, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Australia — found that fund managers who grew up in the poorest families did more than two percentage points per year better, on average, than managers from the wealthiest families.
The researchers reached this conclusion after painstakingly compiling the family histories of individuals managing United States domestic equity funds for any significant period of time between 1975 and 2012. To do this, they extracted data from sources as diverse as the Lexis Nexis public records database, the National Student Clearinghouse, Ancestry.com and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. While they were unable to obtain the necessary data for each and every individual who managed a fund at any point over these four decades, the database they compiled did still encompass more than 400 mutual funds.
Why does the average fund manager from the poorest families outperform those from the wealthiest families? It’s not that individuals who grow up in the poorest families have more innate talent, as it turns out. But they certainly face much higher entry barriers into Wall Street. One consequence, according to the researchers, is that “only the most skilled make it into fund management.”
Managers who grow up in the wealthiest families, in contrast, are able to follow a relatively easy and well-trodden path to Wall Street, attending elite private secondary schools and selective colleges and universities.
Even after managers from poor families make it into the world of mutual fund management they still face discrimination. An example comes when they are being considered to manage an additional fund or promoted to manage a bigger one. The researchers found that, among two managers with equal track records, the one from the wealthier family is more likely to get the promotion. In order to compete, therefore, the manager from the poorer family must deliver superior returns.
The researchers do not recommend that you pick a mutual fund completely on the basis of the socioeconomic status of its manager’s family of origin. Their results are based on averages, of course, so not every fund manager from a poor family will beat one who grew up more privileged. But a difference of more than two percentage points per year certainly suggests that family of origin is at least one relevant data point.
This means that, among two funds that are identical in all other respects, you might want to favor the one managed by the individual who grew up in the poorer family.
The researchers also suspect that the pattern they found in the mutual fund arena appears elsewhere in the business world where there are high barriers to entry, such as corporate management. Documenting that pattern in those other areas is more difficult, of course, since performance is not as easily quantified.
But when it comes to mutual fund performance, the numbers don’t lie.