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Girls may not believe it, but they rule

Jamie Grill | Blend Images | Getty Images

Girls and money smarts: perfect together.

Sure, women make up just 24 percent of workers in so-called STEM fields—those that deal with science, technology, engineering, and math. And women are scarce in the leadership ranks of finance. But when it comes to planning financially for the future, girls are at least as financially savvy as boys. At least, that's the finding in Junior Achievement and The Allstate Foundation's most recent annual survey measuring teens' financial literacy.

Ninety-one percent of the girls who responded are planning to attend college, compared to 86 percent of the boys. More girls intend to pay with grants and scholarships. Not only that, 40 percent of the girls are considering attending college in-state to save money, compared to 30 percent of boys.

However, when it comes to life after college, boys have measurably higher expectations for their first salaries—despite the fact that fewer of them are planning to attend college or are thinking about how to keep education costs down.

"We've always collected gender data, but this year it sort of stood out," said Jack Kosakowski, president and chief executive officer of Junior Achievement USA.

Is it a confidence issue for girls? Or something else?

A survey by the Girl Scouts of the USA's research arm, found that 13 percent of girls felt that men are "better with money than women," a response that mirrored what their parents said. Only half of the girls said they felt confident making financial decisions, and only 21 percent said they felt very confident.

"Girls tend to downplay their abilities, more so than boys," said Kimberlee Salmond, senior research strategist with the Girl Scouts.

Salmond said she suspects that one element of girls' self assessments when it comes to money is that girls are simply more concerned about things in general than boys are. In an earlier survey by the Girl Scouts around healthy living, with questions asking how concerned respondents were with different issues, "on every item, girls were way more concerned than boys," she said.

There may be a legitimate information gap as well. Kosakowski noted that the Junior Achievement survey found that parents are more likely to give allowances to sons than to daughters, and that an allowance provides an easy entry point for a discussion about money.

"I have to wonder if, unconsciously, parents are treating their kids differently when it comes to money, and if that kind of sticks with them," he said. "Looking at the data, it does kind of make you wonder."

Wonder, indeed. Schwab's Teens & Money survey, released in 2011, found that boys are more likely to report that their parents have had discussions with them about how to invest money to make it grow, and about the pressure to have more things.

The good news is that girls want to learn more about managing their money and becoming financially savvy.

"Girls are very clear that they need and want these skills," said Salmond.

In addition, the Girl Scouts research shows that girls have high expectations for careers, and they expect to be able to save a lot of money and retire comfortably. They also do expect to be partners with their spouses when it comes to family finances and household responsibilities, and they expect to make financial decisions and manage household finances together.

Financial literacy seems to be a fashionable cause these days among financial services organizations, and there is more money being injected into educational programs—and more serious assessments of what is really working. That, too, could help girls gain greater financial self confidence.

Kosakowski said he expects girls would benefit from having more high-level women as mentors. The Junior Achievement program is based on mentorship, he pointed out, but the more senior a woman becomes, the greater the demands on her time.

He also said that most kids look to their parents for lessons about money, and he is a big believer in allowances as tools for parents to teach financial literacy, to girls as well as boys.

"It's just as tough for parents, for whatever reason, to talk to their kids about money as it is having the birds-and-the-bees talk. But they really have to get started, and an allowance is a good way to do that."

—By CNBC's Kelley Holland.

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