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Women Make Money Decisions in 24% of Households, Actually a Big Step Up

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. women have long held sway in their families as chief household budget directors, but these days their economic reach extends far beyond simple household expenses.

Data from Fidelity Investments and its Couples Retirement Study shows that more women than ever claim the mantle of "family chief financial officer," managing investment portfolios, taking responsibility for family college spending and buying life and health care insurance.

This hardly puts women in the majority; only 24% of females claim to be the lead decision-maker on day-to-day financial planning decisions in their households.

But that's still way ahead of the 15% of American women who claimed the same thing back in 2011. The study didn't say if any increase could be attributed to growth in same-sex relationships.

Longer term, more American women are stepping up and grabbing the money levers in their families. Fidelity says that 19% of U.S. females say they control the household retirement planning, compared with 9% just two years ago.

What women need to work on in their financial planning, Fidelity says, is confidence, especially younger women in marriages and house-sharing relationships. The study shows 53% of men saying they were "very confident" in their ability to manage money, compared with just 45% of women.

Women 35 and under are particularly prone to ceding ground to the men in their lives over home finances and insurance and investment decisions. Study analysts say those women should be "less deferential" and strive to reach "equal ground" with their male partners when it comes to managing money.

"Women are giving so much of themselves at work, with their families and in the community, but it's just as important to take the time and ensure all that hard work is protected financially," says Kathleen Murphy, president of personal investing at Fidelity. "While a lot of progress has been made, it's critical for women to empower themselves by becoming equal partners managing the family finances and in long-term financial planning conversations."

Only 45% of U.S. couples say they make money management decisions as a team, and just 43% of couples say they make retirement decisions together.

Additionally, the number of U.S. women who make little or no decisions about the family finances is 7% higher than men making the same statement.

Part of the problem may be that females are hard-wired to resist taking risks, a big component of investment planning. According to the Fidelity study, "women tend to have lower risk tolerance than men." Specifically, women are "much less likely than the men to be willing to invest a substantial portion of money to achieve potentially higher returns, even if it means possibly losing some or all of initial investment."

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