First, the good news: More women are going to college. According to a new report by the American Association of University Women, 56% of today’s enrolled college students in America are women. But that achievement is being coupled with the stress and anxiety of student loans needed to finance that college dream. And this burden is being carried by more women than men. In 2016, the average woman left college owing $21,619, compared with the average man owing $18,880 when he left college.
In total, women are shouldering two-thirds of the nation’s outstanding student loan debt, a staggering number that is almost $900 billion as of 2018.
Why women are carrying more student loan debt
Demographically, it makes sense that more women are dealing with student loans since more women are going to college than men. But that is not the full picture, the report suspects. The American Association of University Women suggests that the gender pay gap is another factor as to why women are dealing with more student loans debt than men.
From their first post-grad job, women get trapped in a cycle of being underpaid. The report found that women working full-time with college degrees were making an average of 20% less than their male counterparts four years after graduation. This aligns with other gender pay gap research. A separate study found that Millennial women will make less money and make slower career progress than their male peers despite equal qualifications in the first five years of their career.
“Because of the gender pay gap, they have less disposable income with which to repay their loans after graduation, requiring more time to pay back their student debt than do men. As a result, women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States,” the report states. “Lower pay means less income to devote to debt repayment.”
When you are making less money, it’s going to take you longer to repay your student loans. In the four years after graduation, women paid off 31% of their debt, while men paid off an average of 38% of their student loans debt.
“Despite the financial risks and difficulties that now accompany earning a college degree, women are still enrolling and graduating at higher rates than men, and borrowing and repaying larger loans than men,” the report concluded. “Our system of higher education should not be a source of major financial risk for vulnerable students. We can do better.”