The number of Australians directly owning shares has fallen to the lowest level in more than a decade as the global financial crisis belted confidence and sapped returns.
The latest Australian Share Ownership Study, run by the ASX, shows the proportion of the population directly owning shares has fallen to 34 per cent, down from 39 per cent in the last survey in 2010.
Total share ownership, which includes exposure through unlisted managed funds, has fallen to 38 per cent, from 43 per cent.
But Australia continues to have one of the world's highest levels of exposure to equities, with 6.7 million people participating in the market either directly or through their super funds.
The ASX study has been running since 1991, tracking changes in the behaviour of investors.
It shows investors have become more self-reliant in recent years, with more people saying they want to be in control of their portfolios. The desire for control coincides with the rise in popularity of self-managed super funds, and the desire to reduce fees.
However, more people admit they are "not at all knowledgeable" about the way the market works.
Most investors (61 per cent) expect to maintain the present proportion of their funds in shares during the next 12 months (up from 52 per cent in 2010), the report says. It also found more people hold residential property in their self-managed super funds than a few years ago (19 per cent up from 11 per cent in 2010).
The report also shows the average value of trades has dropped by 11 per cent to $12,730 in recent years. The average value of funds invested fell to $139,380 from $163,885 two years ago.
Recent gains in the sharemarket are translating into bigger superannuation returns with balanced super funds - the most widely held funds - on track to deliver their highest returns in 15 years.