Survey: Student Loan Debt Discourages Borrowers From Marriage, Kids, and Sex

 February 24, 2020
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The millions of Americans shouldering a collective student loan burden of $1.56 trillion aren’t just suffering from financial pressures, but often from concerns and stress that hits other parts of their lives as well.

According to a new Student Loan Hero survey, student loans cause many borrowers to think twice about marriage and having kids, while more than one-third of respondents said student loan stress is hurting their sex life.

The U.S. birth rate and marriage rate have both decreased significantly, and reports in recent years from the Centers for Disease Control and the General Social Survey suggest younger people are having less sex than their counterparts in the 1990s did. Our own survey shows that student loans and the stress that accompanies them could be a contributing factor to all of these trends.

Key findings

  • About 2 in 3 borrowers who don’t have children said their student loan debt and the increasing costs of college made them hesitant about having kids.
  • 68% of single borrowers said they were postponing marriage until after their student debt is paid off.
  • 39% of borrowers reported their debt made them less interested in having sex — that number jumps to 44% when looking only at millennials.
  • Nearly half of borrowers said they were embarrassed telling a romantic partner about their student debt. But 41% would talk about it on a first date if it came up in conversation.
  • About 1 in 4 single borrowers would not consider marrying someone with a six-figure student loan balance, though 50% said it would depend on the situation.

Nearly 2 in 3 indebted borrowers think twice about having kids

The annual number of births in the U.S. continues to fall, with the CDC reporting a 2% drop in 2018 to a 32-year low, while the nation’s fertility rate — births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age — was at an all time low.

While this decrease surely has a number of factors, one might have to do with the student loan debt carried by millions of Americans. When Student Loan Hero asked borrowers who don’t have children if their student loan debt makes them hesitant about having kids, 29% of respondents agreed “completely” and 36% said it described them “somewhat.”

Delaying a family due to student debt appeared to be a concern across the genders — 63% of women and 65% of men cited their debt as sparking some level of concern over having children.

However, millennials (ages 23 to 38) tended to be more worried than Gen Xers (ages 39-53), with 69% having concerns versus 52% of Gen Xers. Of all respondents, just over one-third said that their student loans didn’t make them hesitant to have children.

And beside their own student debt, borrowers with no children also worried about the rising costs of college, with 65% saying the price of education factored into their family planning decisions.

Here too, millennials were more concerned about starting a family for this reason, with 67% citing college costs, compared to just 43% of Gen Xers. This could stem from the fact that millennials have faced much steeper prices for higher education than did Gen X or earlier generations.

Student loan debt can also dampen marriage plans

For some borrowers, student debt is also a reason to put off marriage. Among single respondents, 34% “definitely” agreed with the statement “I don’t want to get married until my student loans are paid off,” while another 34% said it described them “somewhat.”

This sentiment was a lot stronger among millennials than Gen Xers. Among unmarried millennials, 70% said the statement described them somewhat or completely, as compared to 42% of Gen Xers.

Meanwhile, men were a bit more likely to say they would delay getting married until they had paid off their debt, with 72% reporting they were at least somewhat likely to delay marriage, as compared to 64% of women.

Such concerns weren’t just about one’s self: Nearly 1 in 4 borrowers said they wouldn’t marry someone who owed more than $100,000 in student loans. A similar 27% said it didn’t matter, while half said it would depend on the situation.

Student loan stress in the bedroom

As mentioned above, young Americans seem to be having less sex, according to sources ranging from the CDC’s study of high-school students to reports in news media. While these findings could have a wide variety of causes, one influence seems to be a loss of libido due to the stress of student loan debt.

In total, 39% of respondents said the stress from their debt made them less interested in having sex. This number was highest among millennials (44%), and a bit lower among Gen Xers (31%) and boomers, aged 54-73 (35%).

A Student Loan Hero survey conducted in 2017 turned up a number of other emotional and physical problems that borrowers saw as connected to their debt. Specifically, 61% of borrowers said they feared their student loan worries were spiraling out of control, while 70% said their debt gave them headaches, and just under 65% reported losing sleep over their loans.

What impact do student loans have on your life?

The results of this survey align with others showing that student loans can drag on a whole array of important life goals. If your loans are causing major stress in your life, seek out ways to relieve the pressure.

This might involve joining a support group, or talking to a counselor or therapist about your feelings around debt. It could also mean learning about repayment options and forgiveness programs.

Student loan refinancing could also ease the pressure, as it gives creditworthy borrowers the chance to lower their interest rate and restructure their debt with a new repayment plan.

And if you can find extra room in your budget by decreasing your expenses or increasing your income, throwing extra payments at your student loans could get you out of debt even sooner. Whatever you decide, try to be proactive about paying off your debt.

These efforts will give you a greater sense of control over your finances (and your life), and hopefully ease the stress you have around student loans as a result.

Published in News & Policy, Press, Research