American women owe nearly twice as much of the nation’s $1.3 trillion in student loan debt as men do, according to a recent study.
Since the 1950s, major strides have been made to shrink the gender gap in enrollment at American colleges and universities, and today, women make up 57 percent of college students in the United States. But despite these gains, women face disproportionate burdens when it comes to student loan debt — a lifelong economic disadvantage that can weigh down graduates for decades after they’ve earned their degrees.
The student loan debt crisis is frequently cited as one of the primary reasons millennials are waiting longer than previous generations to move out of their parents’ homes, have children and get married. According to an American Association of University Women study, women are facing these challenges at higher rates than men.
The reasons behind this discrepancy stem from a number of interrelated factors, including the unremitting gender wage gap. Today, women earn 10 percent less than men when taking into account factors including occupation, experience and education. Women graduating with bachelor’s degrees this year earned on average $17.88 per hour, while men earned $20.87, making it harder for women to repay loans.
Women are also more likely to attend for-profit schools, which are often convenient for working mothers, but less generous with financial aid, and which do not teach skills that lead to upward economic mobility.
“It’s a systemic problem,” Kevin Miller, a researcher at the American Association of University Women, told the Boston Globe.
According to the same study, African-American women with bachelor's degrees are particularly weighed down with debt, on average facing over $29,000 in student loans.
The average American woman graduating from a four-year college or university carries $21,000 in college debt, about $1,500 more than the average American man.