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American women are facing 'perfect storm' of student debt

Katie Krzaczek
Associate Editor

Total student loan debt in America recently passed $1.5 trillion. And as Yahoo Finance previously reported, financial struggles — particularly those related to education debt — are straining marriages.

On top of all that, as recently explained by Datatrek Research cofounder Jessica Rabe, women are being hit markedly harder by the burden of student loans than their male counterparts due to a “perfect storm” of factors.

‘It only gets worse over time’

Here are the major parts of the perfect storm, as explained by Rabe: “A greater share of women attend college than men, but they also take out more loans and borrow more money in order to do so. Upon finishing their higher education, they earn less than men and are slower to repay their loans.”

The result is that American women hold nearly two-thirds of outstanding student debt, according to a study by the American Association of University Women (using data from 2015-16). As of mid-2018, the AAUW estimates that debt to be around $900 billion, compared with the only $490 billion in loans carried by men.

“Student debt levels have reached an all-time high, with women carrying a bigger burden of debt than men,” said Kim Churches, chief executive officer of the AAUW. “This debt is an albatross for many women as they embark on careers and work to support their households and families. And it only gets worse over time when coupled with the gender pay gap.”

American women entering college are facing a “perfect storm” for debt. (Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)

AAUW data shows that more women than men have been attending college (women represented 56% of enrolled students as of fall 2016). And the study found that “across degree levels, women in college took on initial student loan balances that were about 14% greater than men’s.”

Those larger balances take longer to pay off when considering that women are still making less than men. According to the AAUW, women working full-time were still making $0.80 for every dollar a man made in 2016.

The gender pay gap

With the current student loan debt growing, and the rate at which women are inching closer to being paid equally to men, the current situation doesn’t look to be improving for women any time soon.

Progress toward more equal pay has been made over the past 50 years, but not much.

“At the rate of change between 1960 and 2016, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059,” the AAUW explained. Since 2001, it’s slowed down even more. If change continues at the current rate, women won’t reach pay equity with men until 2119.

This graph from the American Association of University Women shows the projected trends that could help women reach pay equity with men.

‘The cost of college continues to rise’

And while college students taking on debt are maxing out the federal loan program, some parents are taking on more debt to keep up with ever-rising tuitions.

“It may be that we are in an economic recovery and as the stock market improves, fewer parents are borrowing and don’t need to borrow,” Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher and vice president of research at SavingForCollege.com, recently told The New York Times. “But those who borrow need to borrow more because the cost of college continues to rise.”