Gender and Student Loan Debt

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Written By KennethChing emerged from a shared vision: to make loan management accessible and understandable for everyone.





On average, women have greater debt burdens than their male counterparts

Large student loan debt is an issue for many. The total student loan debt of Americans is greater than almost any country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and it is only getting larger. A solid way to finance higher education is borrowing debt. It can also help recent graduates build a strong credit score. The most economically vulnerable may be unable to pay their bills.

If we look at student loan debt by gender, we quickly see that most of this financial burden is not being borne by men.

Understanding Student Loan Debt

A student loan debt is the amount owed to a lender who provides funding for higher education. The money can be used for tuition, but it can also be used to purchase school supplies and basic necessities. Due to the rising cost of higher education, most students won’t be able to afford college, regardless of whether they have received funding from their parents or scholarships.

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Although it is possible to get a job with a good salary after graduation, not everyone can. Late payments can make a loan default. Many struggling graduates may experience a significant drop in their credit scores and credit reports as a result.

Student loan debt, which is responsible for more than 43 million Americans and amounts to $1.1 trillion, is the second-highest source household debt. While college attendance is at an all-time high, the cost of higher education has more that doubled since the previous generation. While household incomes are relatively stable, they have not changed much. This is a difficult reality that affects women especially. These women face additional challenges, including higher second chance car loan amounts and lower debt repayments.

These gender discrepancies are caused by what? Our research reveals some of the problems that affect women. We also look at what we can find about issues faced nonbinary/gender-nonconforming borrowers as well as differences between transgender and cisgender borrowers. Please note that some names may not be consistent across the article due to the differences in terminology used by our sources. For example, although Investopedia prefers “Latinx”, this article uses terms like “Hispanic/Latinx,” which represent how specific researchers reported information. We will also be reporting data from different years because most of these studies don’t take place annually.

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Gender breakdown of student debt

Average student loan debt by gender and race

First, it is important to note that 56% of college students are women according to the American Association of University Women. It’s no surprise that nearly two-thirds (or $833 billion) of all student loan debt in the United States was held by women that year.

But women’s debt burden isn’t equal. According to AAUW, women who graduated with a bachelor’s degree by 2012 owed $1453 more than their male counterparts. In 2017, they owed on average $31,276 in student loans, compared with $29,790 for male graduates.

They not only owe much more, but they also have to deal with a gender-based wage gap. In 2017, women who graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree expected to make $35,338 per year, which is approximately 81% less than what men were earning. Even if women had the same amount as men, it would be more difficult for them to get rid of their financial debts.

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Female borrowers often need more education to be able to earn the same wage as less-educated male borrowers. A woman might need at least a master’s to be able to exceed the lifetime earnings of a male student with an associate degree. To counter pay gaps, those who pursue a graduate degree will end up with more debt and eventually pay more. In 2017, female students borrowed an average $51,035 to pay for graduate school. This can rise to $61,626 per year once they have graduated, due to interest.

By Race, Cumulative Female Graduate Loan Debt

Even if women owed the same amount as men, it would still be more difficult for them to repay these national small loan. It’s easy for us to see how student loan debt and wage gaps are reinforced when we consider that on average, women owe more than men on student loans. Female borrowers are often forced to put off saving for retirement, buying a home, or starting a business.

This is not to mention the fact that 34% of women reported financial difficulties in 2019.

Gender and Race at the Intersection

All borrowers are not equally burdened by student loan debt. Black women owed $37,558 on average in student loans in 2017, while White women owed $31,346. Both Black and White women owed higher student loan debts than their male counterparts. Hispanic/Latinx women owed slightly more ($423) than the men in the same group. Asian women owed slightly less than Asian men, and had the lowest total debt of all female borrowers.

By Race, Cumulative Female Undergraduate Loan Debt

The AAUW reports that this unequal start is not going to improve after one year of college. Black women owed $41,466.5 in average debt. White, Hispanic/Latinx and Asian borrowers followed closely. Despite an increase in all categories of debt, one group saw their debt rise faster than the others: Black women. The student loan debt balances of Asian, Hispanic/Latinx and White women increased by approximately $2,000, while Black borrowers saw a nearly $4,000 increase. The data also showed that White borrowers owed more to female Pacific Islander/Hawaiian Native, American Indian or Alaska Native borrowers (38,747.4 vs. $36,184).

Higher student debt and a wider racial wealth gap, as well as unqual access to and outcomes in higher education, are other socioeconomic factors that can reinforce each other and negatively affect women of color. The Center for Responsible Lending reported in 2019 that African American and Latina women had the highest student loan debt levels and were paid 61 cents and 53 cents for every dollar earned.

How college type affects debt

Debt can also be affected by the college attended. According to the AAUW, women who attended public four-year colleges had an average of $29,611 of student loan debt in 2017. This was followed by student loan loads at private four-year institutions of higher education, both for-profit and nonprofit, which averaged $32,086 and $42,778, respective.

Average Student Loan Borrowing by Women (Institution).

Despite all these costs being high, the cost difference between for-profit and public four-year colleges is striking. Although they may not have as many students as public universities but they are able to enroll more people than the public universities.

The Mom Factor

While childcare is not a concern for all students, it is a significant economic factor for millions. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that 25% of college students were parents with dependent children in 2018. More than 40% of parents were single mothers.

According to the AAUW, students who are mothers have additional obstacles in repaying their debt. In 2017, women could spend $920 on housing, $163 for utilities, $396 on vehicle payments and $387 on food. $113 would be spent on medical expenses. On average, the 16% of mothers spent $520 more each month for childcare.