Of all of the cliches about men and women, one of the most indelible is that men are best left in charge of household finances.

However, the barrier is closing between segregated duties, and more men and women are sharing financial tasks as a result of women becoming more confident about managing money, according to an annual survey on women and investing by OppenheimerFunds of New York.

Oppenheimer, which surveyed 1,000 women and men via the Internet last August, found women's confidence about managing money has increased significantly from 2005-and is actually on par with men's. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most confident, 60% of women reported scores of seven or above, versus 54% the year before. Meanwhile, men's confidence has remained unchanged from 2005, with 59% of men reporting scores of seven or above.

The number of women feeling confident about their investment knowledge is also on the rise, but at a slower rate. In 2000, 37% reported scores of seven or above. That edged up to 40% in 2006.

"More and more women are taking charge of finances in business as well as in the household and have more fiduciary responsibility," said Delia Passi, president and CEO of Hollywood, Fla.-based Medelia Communications, a marketing company that supports companies in their efforts to expand market share among women.

Women are starting to take a more active role in household financial tasks, such as paying the bills, balancing the checkbook, buying and selling investments and updating the will, said Lauren Coulston, assistant vice president at OppenheimerFunds. Men and women spent significantly more time together working on financial tasks last year, the survey found.

Men and women joining together to save money for retirement increased, with 55% of women stating they worked with their spouse on this task last year, compared to 33% of women in 2005. Also, jointly developing and maintaining a budget increased, with 42% of women stating they discussed the issue with their spouse in 2006, compared to only 29% the previous year.

More spouses are also combining their efforts to teach their children about money; 46% of women said they worked with their husband on the issue, compared to 33% in 2005. Eighty-five percent of men and women believe it is necessary to teach their children about money.

Educating children at a young age about finances is very important, Passi said. Approximately three in four men and women agree that they wished they had learned more about investing growing up, Oppenheimer found.

Certainly, having enough money to retire is on everyone's mind, and more women are aware that they need to save for retirement. Seventy-two percent stated it was their No. 1 investment goal.

However, despite the knowledge that they need to save for retirement, less than half of women are actually doing it. This could be due to the fact that women tend to live in the present and do not think long term, Coulston said. Additionally, a lot of women have outstanding debt, she added. Sixty percent of women have more than $5,000 in household debt, and almost 30% stated they have over $20,000, the survey found.

More women need to start putting money away for retirement. "The task can be daunting, but taking small steps toward retirement goals is a great place to start," Coulston said.

Forty-seven percent of women indicated that they would save $50 a month for retirement if it would provide them with $500,000 when they retire, Coulston said. Also, learning to cut back on spending and managing debt were moderate motivators for both men and women.

Few women work with financial advisers, due to their own unease and that of advisers. In the past, financial advisers have focused on discussing household finances with men because they are seen as the primary decision makers, but women need to be included in the conversations, as well. Women are three times more likely to be widowed then men, and at some point in the future will have to handle their finances on their own, Passi said.

Only 20% of women surveyed worked with a financial adviser, but those that do said they find it beneficial.

Seventy-three percent of women stated they were more comfortable with investing because they were working with an adviser, whereas only 64% of men said they felt more comfortable.

Women are beginning to get referrals to advisers from family and friends and are more comfortable talking about their finances, as the topic is no longer taboo, Coulston said. Women don't feel they have to be an expert when working with a financial adviser, she said.

Many women are multi-taskers, and some are just focused on taking care of children and their families and don't have the time to think about long-term savings goals, Coulston said. That's where a financial adviser can be especially helpful, because they can establish goals, such as money for retirement and a child's college saving plan, she said.

Women have to realize that they might not find the right financial adviser for them right away. Women are not always comfortable asking questions of an adviser because they do not want to come across as stupid, Passi said. "Financial advisers need to teach women about finances and empower them to understand issues, rather than just simply provide them with solutions."

(c) 2007 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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