This is why women get a raw deal on student debt
- Jun 7, 2017
Curry Oglesby knows the challenges firsthand of trying to pay down her debt and also plan for her future. “It’s not like I have savings right now,” she said. The 30-year-old graduated from Howard University in 2009 during the depths of the economic downturn with more than $20,000 in debt and struggled to get a job in public health. So Oglesby kept her retail job and crammed into an apartment with multiple roommates in an effort to afford her expenses.
But often her pay, which was largely based on commission, wasn’t enough to cover her debt. She moved around a few times, missing loan payments and mailed warnings and ultimately her student loan slid into default — a credit-altering event — and debt collectors started garnishing her wages to repay the debt. “I basically just put my hands up in the air because I felt like ‘at least it’s getting paid,’” she said.
She’s just one of millions of American female graduates who has struggled to pay back their student loans and, new data shows, one of many women who owe more than their male counterparts. The nation’s rising student debt is often thought of as an economic, political or young people issue, but the new research suggests that it’s a women’s issue too.
About two-thirds of the nation’s outstanding student debt is held by women, according to estimates published Wednesday by the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on women in education. What’s more, women are more indebted than men by basically every measure; they’re more likely to take on loans to attend college, and when they do, they tend to borrow more and take longer to pay back those debts, the report which relies on government data and other sources, found.
The findings add to the growing body of evidence that women and minority students are disproportionately affected by the increasing cost of college, and as a result, may not reap as large of a financial benefit from their degree.
Why do women carry more student debt than men?
There are a variety of reasons women both take on more student debt and take longer to pay it off, according to Kevin Miller, a senior researcher at AAUW and one of the authors of the report. For one, women make up the bulk of college students and graduates, but their share of outstanding student debt is much larger than the share of students they represent.
The pay gap, on the other hand, plays a major role in the challenges women face with their student loans. Adult women attending college likely have fewer resources to draw on than their male counterparts because they’re typically paid less, pushing them to borrow more. On average, women take on initial student loan balances that are 14% higher than those of men, AAUW found.
And while in school, women are more likely to incur certain expenses than men, like child care, pushing up their loan balances. Parents make up about 26% of college students and women account for about 71% of those college parents. That means by the time they graduate, women’s balances are about $1,500 higher than men’s on average.
Once women leave college, they typically get paid less than men — to the tune of about 20% four years after graduation, the report notes. Female college graduates earn less on average for a variety of reasons, including that they’re more likely to end up in lower paying fields than men and that unconscious bias means they often earn less than their male colleagues in the same job or field.
It takes women two years longer than men to pay off student loans
As a result, they face more of a challenge repaying their loans. On average, men paid off 38% of their loans between one and three years after graduating, according to data from the report on the class of 2008. Women, on the other hand, paid off just 31%. The researchers estimate that women are taking nearly two years longer to pay off their debts.
The longer period spent repaying their student debt could have broader financial consequences for women, Miller said. “If that means that men are starting to save for retirement two years before women, then obviously that’s going to make a big difference,” he said.
Oglesby, meanwhile, has been able to get back on track with her loans, but it took getting a higher paying job before she felt comfortable addressing her debt. Now she works as a sales manager and has already paid down a good chunk of her debt.
Still, she knows that other borrowers and, in particular women, who she noted get paid less on average, aren’t as lucky. “This is really a serious issue that needs to be dealt with,” she said.
Lawmakers and experts have proposed a variety of ways to cut down on college costs and repay student loans, including requiring states to invest more in their public colleges and offering borrowers a variety of repayment programs, though the future of those efforts remains uncertain under the Trump administration. Still, there seems to be bipartisan support for one proposal to help low-income students pay for college by making Pell grants — the money the government provides to poor students to attend college — available year-round instead of just for two semesters.
Given that women account for an outsize share of student debt suffering, these kinds of proposals will be of particular help to women, Miller said. “One of the silver linings on the crowd is that literally anything that reduces student debt overall will disproportionately help women,” he said.
To find out more, visit www.studentdebtcenter.org