Best investment: Rich and poor disagree, but why?

The rich prefer real estate and stocks while the poor favor gold.

That's what Gallup found when it recently asked Americans to pick which long-term investment was best: real estate, stocks, gold, savings accounts or bonds.

While a rebounding housing market helped cement real estate as the top overall pick, it turns out the rich and the poor have very different ideas about what makes a good investment.

According to the poll, Americans with an annual household income of at least $75,000 are more likely to say that real estate (38%) and stocks (30%) are the best long-term investments.

Of course, these wealthier households are also the most likely to say they own a home (87%) and stocks (82%).

As household income declines, however, so too does the perceived attractiveness of these two investments.

Just 13% of Americans with a household income of less than $30,000 think stocks are the best long-term move. Some 28% said real estate was the best investment.

In fact, poorer households favor gold (31%) as the best place to tuck away money. Only 18% of upper-income Americans claimed gold was the best long-term investment.

Perceived best investment by income

Real estate Gold Stocks Savings accounts Bonds
$75,000+ 38% 18% 30% 7% 7%
$30,000 to $74,999 26% 26% 25% 16% 6%
Less than $30,000 28% 31% 13% 17% 7%

Playing amateur psychologist, we can suss out why this disparity occurs.

In addition to steady income, a nice down payment and good credit, real estate investing requires an optimistic outlook — the belief that despite bumps in the road, the economy will soldier on.

Investing in stocks is similar in that it requires confidence the economy will grow and the country will weather any future market or housing crashes.

Gold, on the other hand, is a disaster currency that likely will retain value even if the worst happens to the economy.

In general, the wealthy are largely optimistic investors while the poor are pessimistic.

But there's more to this, I think.

These investment choices not only reflect your outlook, they reflect your experience, as well.

If you're rich, real estate and stocks quite likely helped you get there.

If you're working a minimum wage job, though, it's pretty difficult to buy a home or play the stock market.

And middle-wage earners may own a home and have some spare cash to throw at equities, but they don't necessarily have the same investing savvy as the wealthy.

What's the result of missing out on this experience?

A 2013 Pew Research Center study found the nation's wealthiest households boosted their net worth by 21.2% from 2009 to 2011, while the rest of us saw our net worth decline by 4.9%.

Pew attributed much of that gap to the big rebound in stock and bond prices that began shortly after the recession ended in June 2009.

Naturally, the biggest gains went to the most affluent households that owned stocks and bonds.

But there's a larger lesson here.

Since affluent families have much more experience coping with market ups and downs, they were much more likely to take a deep breath and stick with it through the worst of the recession, confident the markets would recover.

And they did. And they profited handsomely.

Yet those who lacked market experience bailed when the recession hit. They essentially bought high, sold low and locked in their losses.

It's not their fault; they simply didn't know any better.

That's a big problem, especially in a society where we're telling people they need to save for their own futures.