Are you a college-educated woman who is being buried under a pile of student loan debt that devours your paychecks and gives you heart palpitations at 2:30 a.m.? Well, take heart -- at least you’re not alone!
According to a depressing new report released this week by the American Association of University Women, women hold nearly two-thirds of this country’s student debt ― or a whopping $833 billion in outstanding loans. (And that’s probably a low-ball estimate, because the report doesn’t capture women who enroll and take on a whole lot of debt but don’t graduate.)
Oh, and female graduates also have a significantly harder time paying those loans off ― making it clear that the student loan crisis is now most definitely a women’s issue.
“Time spent in college now sometimes means unmanageable student debt that drags down those seeking greater opportunity, especially low-income women, women of color, and women who drop out before completing a degree or credential,” Patricia Fae Hoe, board chair of the AAUW ― an advocacy and research group ― wrote in a forward to the report.
So why are women hit hardest by student loan debt? First, it’s because women are simply more likely to go to college. In 2016, 56 percent of people enrolled in colleges and universities were women.
But women also tend to take on larger loans to finance that education.
“In a given year about 44 percent of women enrolled in undergraduate programs take out loans compared to 39 percent of men,” the report says. “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.”
The reasons behind that are complex. Men are more likely to attend public institutions, which cost less, so that’s definitely one factor. But even when women attend public schools, they still tend to take on larger loans. And that is in part because the gender pay gap is already working its evil magic. Male and female students are just as likely to work while they’re in college, but women generally earn about $1,500 less per year ― a difference that is not totally explained by a difference in the number of hours they work, the report argues.
Unfortunately, black women are hit particularly hard by all of this. Roughly a third of black women who got a bachelor’s degree in 2011-2012 left with more than $40,000 in student loan debt, versus just 16 percent of Latina women, 10 percent of white women and 8 percent of Asian-American women.
And overall, women of all races and ethnicities take longer than men to pay off their loans ― thanks (yes, again) in large part to the persistent gender pay gap, which means they tend to earn less than men throughout their careers, even after spending all that money on an education.
“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,” the report says.
Add all this to the long list of things that suck about being a woman in 2017.