WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — A majority of women have emerged as primary breadwinners despite a large lack of confidence in their own financial decisions, according to Prudential Financial’s 7th biennial study of the “Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women.”

The 2012 survey of 1,410 American women and 604 men – between the ages of 25 and 68 – finds that 53 percent of women make more money than their male counterparts, with an increasing number of women assuming this role as a result of partners losing jobs during the financial crisis, divorce and marrying later in life.

“While our past research focused on women who are primary or joint financial decision makers, this new data is consistent with demographic trends and reflecting the impact of the financial crisis,” Susan Blount, senior vice president and general counsel of Prudential Financial, said in the study. “The majority of women today are financially responsible for generating their own and their families’ income.”

Forty percent of female respondents are single and on the surface this appears to put a large portion of women in the driver’s seat when it comes to financial decision making, especially in comparison to a generation ago. Yet, just 23 percent of breadwinner women feel well-prepared to make financial decisions, compared with 45 percent of their male counterparts.

“The study shows that with women in more control than ever of their finances, they face significant challenges when it comes to financial decision making,” Blount said. “And many admit to a lack of knowledge about financial solutions that can help them.”

Both men and women have been adversely affected by the slow economy, but the emerging female workforce has taken a more severe hit in both employment numbers and confidence.

Seventy percent of women and 65 percent of men say they have lost ground as a result of the slow economic recovery, but the impact has been more severe for women. Only 39 percent of women have full-time jobs compared to 55 percent of men. Both younger women and baby-boomer women say they are “not prepared” for retirement.

Although they see themselves in the driver’s seat, in many ways, women under the age of 35 are experiencing the greatest financial challenges.

The unemployment rate for these women is 25 percent – the highest of all the age groups. And 22 percent don’t even have a savings or checking account. Nearly half of these women consider themselves to be either beginner investors or feel they need to enhance their financial knowledge in many areas.

Despite the challenging economy, women are surprisingly positive about the future, with 38 percent of female respondents saying they feel optimistic about the country’s economic prospects over the coming year. On the other hand, more men than women — 24 percent versus 16 percent — say they are very pessimistic about the economic outlook, even though women say they have been hit harder by the events of the past few years.

– Benjamin Fearnow