Study: Women Burdened with Two-Thirds of Nation’s Student Debt

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When Jaclyn Imondi went to college, she was lucky enough to earn a scholarship. In addition, her parents were willing to cover two-thirds of the remaining bill. To fill the gap, she took out student loans to pay for her education.

Despite getting both her bachelor’s and her master’s in just four and a half years, Imondi walked away with over $68,000 in student loan debt.

To afford her payments, she had to extend her repayment term to 25 years. Her student loan debt prevents Imondi from pursuing her dreams, including buying a home.

“I can’t build my savings account any faster, and I can’t lower interest rates, and I can’t lower the housing market prices, so I’m kind of stuck,” she told American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Imondi’s story is typical of many young people, but especially of young women. A new report shows that, when it comes to student loans, there are more women in debt than men. And that can have long-lasting consequences.

Find out why women are carrying a heavier burden and what you can do to take control of your debt.

Study results

The AAUW released a new report that shows women hold two-thirds of the nation’s student loan debt. Women make up $833 billion of all student loans, while men make up just $477 billion.

That number is disproportionate to the number of women in school. There are more women than men in college, but only by a slim margin. Fifty-six percent of college attendees are women, yet they make up the overwhelming majority of student borrowers.

After graduation, the problem worsens. Women repay their loans more slowly than men. They are also more likely to default on their student loans.

Women in debt

Kevin Miller, Ph.D., senior researcher for AAUW, said the disparity between men and women in debt is due to multiple factors.

“One thing we know is that women in college have a lower [Expected Family Contribution] EFC than men, suggesting that they simply have fewer resources with which to pay for their college education and therefore need loans to make up the difference,” said Miller.

That’s likely due to the gender wage gap that persists nationwide.

“Women are paid less than men before college and when they work while enrolled. Across all full-time, year-round workers, women are paid 20 [percent] less than men,” said Miller.

Women often have to juggle childcare responsibilities, as well. The added expense of hiring a sitter or sending a child to daycare can exhaust their savings, causing them to rely on loans to pay the total cost of attendance.

When you combine the need for more student loans to pay for school with the wage gap, it’s easy to understand why women take longer to pay off their debt. Because women struggle more to manage their loans, that also means that they have to delay other financial goals.

“About one-third of women repaying student loans reported difficulty meeting all their essential expenses, compared to one-fourth of men repaying their loans. AAUW estimates that it takes women about two years longer to pay off their loans than men, on average, which means they may delay saving for retirement or homeownership,” said Miller.

Limiting your debt

If you are overwhelmed by student loans and don’t know where to start, here are some steps that can help you:

  1. Exhaust all grant and scholarship options: Pell Grants are a valuable alternative for low-income students going to college, but there are other resources, too. Student Loan Hero has compiled over 120 repayment assistance programs that can help you pay down your debt, and there are many scholarships created specifically for women.
  2. Take advantage of income-driven repayment plans: If you have federal student loans, an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan can make your payments more manageable. Under an IDR plan, your payments are calculated based on your discretionary income, which can reduce what you owe each month.
  3. Be your own advocate: You can help combat the wage gap by understanding your market value and asking for a raise when it’s deserved.
  4. Consider refinancing: If you have high-interest loans, your balance can balloon over time. Refinancing your student loans can help you save money or reduce your monthly payment so your loans become more manageable. Refinancing is not for everyone but can be useful in some situations.

Bottom line

Student loan debt is a national crisis. However, as this new study shows, it is a problem that affects a disproportionate amount of women.

“We encourage women (and men) to get informed about and involved with efforts to improve our system both for people who already have debt as well as for the sake of the next generation of women enrolling in college,” said Miller.

Advocating for fair pay is one of the most important ways to help.

AAUW’s work on fair pay is a good place to start – paycheck fairness is a key part of the solution for helping individual women and women as a group overcome student debt,” said Miller.

For more information about managing your student loans, check out this guide on how to pay down your debt faster. 

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.