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

women in debt

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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Published in Financial Tips, News, Pay Off Student Loans, Student Loan Default, Student Loans

  • PeacePromoter

    No, the politicized AAUW doesn’t get to blame this debt on the gender wage gap.

    Women’s advocates insist employers everywhere pay women less than men for doing exactly the same work in the exact same occupations and careers, working side-by-side with men on the same job for the same organization, working the same number of hours per week, traveling the same amount of time for work obligations, with the same exact work experience and education, with exactly the same level of productivity.

    Yet these advocates also seem to think employers’ prime modus operandi is greed. (“Corporate greed” may be one of the Left’s more salient rallying calls.)

    Thus they no doubt believe employers would hire only illegal immigrants for their lower labor cost if they could get away with it (many do get away with it), or would move their business to a cheap-labor country to save money (many do this even more since “the onrush of globalization, which enables companies to find cheap labor abroad”–_and_can_help_get_us_out_134069.html), or would replace old workers with young ones for the same reason.

    So why do these same advocates think employers would NOT hire only women if, as they say, employers DO get away with paying females at a lower rate than males for the same work?

    Many of America’s most sophisticated women choose to earn less than their male counterparts:

    “Female physicians worked about 5 hours fewer per week than their male counterparts through age 54….”

    “In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.”

    “…[O]nly 35 percent of women who have earned MBAs after getting a bachelor’s degree from a top school are working full time.” It “is not surprising that women are not showing up more often in corporations’ top ranks.”

    “Compared to men, women view professional advancement as equally attainable, but less desirable”

    “Women Dominate College Majors That Lead to Lower-Paying Work” -Harvard Business Review, April 19, 2017

    See other reasons the wage gap hasn’t closed after thousands of measures over many decades:

    “Salary Secrecy — Discrimination Against Women?”


    More and more people have become aware of the real causes of the gender wage gap. (Read the growing number of comments at the end of reports on the gap.) Thus liberals’ long-running, false wage-gap narrative has, I believe, helped hugely to create this:

    “Republicans don’t have near as big a woman problem as Democrats have a man problem.” WSJ

    And this:

    “The whole Democratic Party is now a smoking pile of rubble: In state government things are worse, if anything. The GOP now controls historical record number of governors’ mansions, including a majority of New England governorships. Tuesday’s election swapped around a few state legislative houses but left Democrats controlling a distinct minority. The same story applies further down ballot, where most elected attorneys general, insurance commissioners, secretaries of state, and so forth are Republicans.”

  • Jim Anderson

    Student debt is a difficult situation for women, as discussed. There is a pay gap between the sexes in many industries but there is also a participation gap within higher paying industries. Many higher paying STEM industries are dramatically underrepresented. The percentage of women’s college degrees that are STEM related is only about 7%. I’m not saying more need to if they are not inclined to pursue that career, but it needs to be mentioned in the above article. Also, the young lady discussed in the article earned her Masters. In what? I also bet most of her debt was from getting that Masters degree. Many professions that women go into require a Masters degree but are not high paying, like education. My daughter took a year off after her undergrad degree and lived at home and worked. She earned enough to pay for her Masters degree. My other daughter will graduate in 3 1/2 years and continue on to get her Masters in Bioengineering. There’s a right way to do it.

    If you are reading this before you start college, please either spend more time looking at the outcome and not just getting in. If you need help, hire someone that will save you time and money, and your sanity!

    The solution to excessive student debt is addressing it before you get it. After could be too late!