According to Federal Reserve Data, student loan debt reached $1.52 trillion in March of 2018. Women hold approximately $900 billion of that total.
Why do women hold more in student loan balances? A recently updated report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) suggests that several reasons combine to shift the student loan burden toward women.
The most obvious reason – more women are attending college than men. AAUW notes that as of the fall 2016 semester, 56% of college enrollees were female, and the National Student Clearinghouse shows 57.3% female enrollment for 2017 – continuing the recent trend.
Women are also more likely to take on debt, according to AAUW's analysis of government statistics. Using data from the 2015-2016 academic year, AAUW found that 41% of female undergraduates took on new student loan debt while only 35% of male undergraduates did so. The difference generally held over degree types, institution types, and degree levels.
Individual student loan balances were also higher for women, averaging 14% greater than balances for men. By the time they complete an undergraduate degree, women carry $2,700 more than men on average in student loan debt. This may be in part because women are more likely to pursue graduate degrees, accumulating more debt at higher interest rates than undergraduates.
The gender pay gap makes it more difficult for female graduates to pay off their loans. The Pew Research Center reports that women earned 82 cents for every dollar that men earned on average in 2017. According to AAUW, men averaged paying off 38% of their outstanding student loan balance between one and four years after graduation, while women paid off 31% on average. Just one late payment could hurt their credit scores, so debtors must keep paying off their student loans diligently. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using Credit Manager by MoneyTips.
Women are also more likely to take time off from their careers for caregiving duties – such as having and raising children and caring for elderly relatives.
In summary, women are more likely to attend college, more likely to take on student loan debt, their debts are more likely to be higher, and they tend to earn less over their lifetimes. Is it any wonder that women are two times more likely than men to think that it would take over twenty years to pay off their student loans?
Female student loan debt produces financial effects that stretch into life decisions – including when to have children. A March 2018 poll by the start-up company Future Family found that 44% of women aged 25 to 40 without children had student debt. Half of those student loan debtors said their loan burdens affect their decisions on having children.
A separate New York Times survey discovered that 13% of women who did not plan to have children at all cited student loan debt as a major reason why.
There are several reasons why women are delaying or forgoing having children and having fewer children on average – but it's disturbing that student loan debt is among them.
Women who are struggling with their student loan debt should check the Federal Student Aid website to consider repayment alternatives. Women who are planning on entering college should focus on avoiding debt in the first place.
Look into all scholarship options, work-study programs, and Income Share Agreements available to ease your burdens and take into account the value of the degree you plan to get. Choose a college that provides superior value to you and make the most of that value once you're there. The more money you borrow and the less likely you are to pay it off, the more that future life decisions will be affected by your collegiate choices.
Find out quickly at what rate you can refinance your student loan.