Some say designating a problem a “women’s issue” trivializes it — as if it’s only of interest to half the population of the U.S., and not to their male counterparts. In the case of student loans, other problems faced by women exacerbate the situation they face in taking, and paying off, the loans that get them through college.
And student loans, it turns out, are more than one of those “women’s issues.”
According to a new report from the American Association of University Women highlighted by the Huffington Post, student debt is a far bigger problem for women than it is for men, for a number of reasons.
And they all boil down to money.
The report finds that women hold considerably more than their share of student debt—close to two thirds of U.S. student debt, in fact—amounting to at least $833 billion.
The total could be even higher, because the report only counts debt held by women who actually graduate and not those who incur student debt but don’t make it all the way through the curriculum.
One reason women carry so much more student debt is that they’re more likely these days than men to go to college; 56 percent of those enrolled in colleges and universities last year were women.
But that’s not the only reason they’re saddled with such high obligations.
According to the report, “In a given year about 44 percent of women enrolled in undergraduate programs take out loans compared to 39 percent of men. Women enrolled in undergraduate programs take on an average of about $3,100 in student loans per year—about $400 more than the average man. By graduation the typical woman receiving a bachelor’s degree in 2011–12 had an average of about $21,000 in student loans, $1,500 more than the typical man.”
So why are women’s loans so much higher? One reason is that men are more likely to go to public institutions, thus cutting the overall cost of their education.
But another is that women take those bigger loans because they have less money to begin with: something for which they can thank the ever-pervasive gender gap.
While both male and female students are equally likely to work while attending college, women will bring home about $1,500 less annually than men—and it’s not because they’re just working fewer hours than their male counterparts.
Women will also take considerably longer to pay off all that debt, since they continue to earn less even after graduation: according to the report, “Women with a bachelor’s degree who worked full time in 2016 earned 26 percent less than men with a bachelor’s degree who worked full time, or $354 less per week.”
While regardless of race or ethnicity it will take women longer to pay off their loans, some groups are hit harder by the debt load -- approximately a third of black women who graduated with a B.A. in 2011–2012 went home not just with a diploma, but also with more than $40,000 in student loan debt.
The same was true for just 16 percent of Latina women, 10 percent of white women and 8 percent of Asian-American women.