Student loan debt continues to rise. According to the Federal Reserve, in the first quarter of 2018, American student loan debt climbed to its highest point: $1.5 trillion.
A report from the American Association of University Women revealed that in 2016, when student loan debt was still hovering around $1.4 trillion, student debt was disproportionately affecting women, and minority women in particular.
According to the 2017 AAUW report, women made up 56% of those enrolled in American colleges and universities in the fall of 2016, and owed nearly two-thirds — or about $890 billion — of the outstanding student loan debt, whereas men owed about $490 billion.
What’s more, a 2018 wage gap report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows that women in the U.S. were still suffering from a gender pay gap in 2016.
What does this mean?
Growing student loan debt is likely impacting college graduates across the U.S., regardless of gender. But the AAUW report sheds light on the extra debt burden faced by female graduates, which might still be taking a toll on their financial well-being today.
For example, the study found that 30% of white women, 57% of black women and 42% of Latina women repaying student loans reported they were unable to meet essential expenses, such as rent, in 2016.
Women also carried more debt than men after graduating from college. The report found that in 2016, after receiving their bachelor’s degree, women owed $2,700 more on average in accrued student debt than men.
The wage gap report from Georgetown University indicates how the gender pay gap can affect women’s ability to pay back their student loans. The report found that compared to white men, white women earned 75 cents on the dollar, black women earned 62 cents on the dollar, and Latina women earned 52 cents on the dollar in 2017 — meaning women might have less income than men overall to dedicate to paying down their debt.
Why should you care?
The combination of growing student debt and the gender pay gap may put women — especially black and Latina women — at a disadvantage when it comes to maintaining financial security, which can make financial progress and building savings for the future difficult.
And as the student loan debt continues to worsen and the gender pay gap persists, women may continue to find it tough to pay down their student loan debt.
What can you do?
- Reach out to the women grads in your life. You may be surrounded by women with college degrees. If this is the first time you’re hearing about the extra debt burden they might be shouldering, reach out and let them know you’re there to support them — even if it’s just by picking up the next dinner or drinks tab.
- Consider student loan refinancing. If you’re having trouble paying back your student loans, refinancing at a lower interest rate could reduce your monthly payments and make your loan obligation more manageable.
- Consider federal loans over private loans. If you or someone you know needs a loan to pay for college, look into a federal loan before considering a private loan. Federal loans, which have fixed interest rates, can be a better option for prospective college students.