For many, digital assets conjure up images of so-called “crypto bros”. The stereotype is of young, well-educated men of European heritage with good earnings prospects. In reality, Americans of African and Hispanic heritage are disproportionately represented among the US investors.
Youth certainly is a distinguishing factor. But an ability to comfortably sustain losses may not be. Pundits should perhaps reserve scorn for jargon-spouting promoters of digital assets rather than out-of-pocket buyers.
Since last November, the total value of the cryptocurrency market has dropped by two-thirds — or more than $2tn — to below $1tn. Bitcoin has lost 70 per cent of its value to trade at just over $20,000.
The rout in digital assets will hit minority investors. A report from the Pew Research Center last year found that Asian, black and Hispanic adults are more likely than white counterparts to have bought tokens.
A quarter of black Americans with a household income over $50,000 own cryptos, according to a separate survey conducted by Ariel Investments and Charles Schwab. That compared to just 15 per cent of white Americans with a similar income. More than twice as many black investors said cryptocurrency was their first investment — 11 per cent vs 4 per cent.
Wariness of traditional investment products has historical roots. In the past, people of colour were subject to discriminatory lending practices by large banks. They are more often targeted by predatory lenders with subprime loans.
Across all ethnicities, 25-34-year-olds are the predominant age group, according to Insider Intelligence. Young people and minorities may figure as significant crypto buyers because incomes and personal wealth are lower in these overlapping groups. Housing equity is out of reach as an investment in expensive cities such as New York and San Francisco for people of modest means. For some of them, cryptos may have appeared to be affordable alternatives.
Genuine crypto bros — programmers at digital start-ups — face a dual hit. They may become redundant even as value evaporates from tokens they saved from wages partly paid in crypto.
The crypto bubble was pumped up primarily by plentiful free money. But a less prominent driving factor may have been a faster rise in the price of assets, such as housing or a college education, than in wages. According to Brad Sherman, a Congressman from California: “What we need is a society where people make enough money [to] save and . . . buy a house instead of a coin.”
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