Student loan debt just hit $1.5 trillion. Women hold most of it

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The amount of student loan debt outstanding in the United States is a staggering $1.4 trillion. Nearly two-thirds of that debt is owed by women.

Although it’s true that women account for 56% of students enrolled in U.S. post-secondary schools, the difference between men’s and women’s loan totals indicates that women borrow more — a lot more.

Not only that, but women are paid less than men, which means that they pay more interest on their student loans for longer periods because they have less disposable income to use to pay down their debt.

The data were reported Tuesday by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) based on publicly available federal government survey data and published academic and organizational studies on the issue of student debt.

Women now earn 57% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded by U.S. colleges and universities, and the percentage of non-white women enrolled in colleges and universities had jumped from around 8% in 1976 to about 25% in 2016. Including men, non-white student enrollment more than doubled from 16% in 1976 to 43% in 2016.

The AAUW reports:

AAUW’s analysis of federal government data has found that women are more likely to take on debt (41 percent of female undergraduates took on debt in 2015–16 compared to 35 percent of male undergraduates). On average women take on more debt than men at almost every degree level and type, from associate degrees to doctoral degrees and across institution types. On average across degree levels women in college took on initial student loan balances that were about 14 percent greater than men’s in 2015–16. Upon completion of a bach­elor’s degree, women’s average accrued student debt is about $2,700 greater than men’s, and black women take on more student debt on average than do members of any other group.

The gender pay gap following graduation is narrowest in the first few years: 18% after one year and 20% after four. The gap continues rising, however, and the average shows women ultimately earning 26% less than men.

During the first four years after graduation, men paid off an average of 38% of their student loans while women paid of 31%, with black and Hispanic women paying off the debt particularly slowly. Default rates are higher for women than for men and much higher for black and Hispanic borrowers than for white and Asian borrowers. The AAUW report notes:

Per­haps unsurprisingly, graduates still repaying loans four years after college are less likely than graduates without loan payments to be able to meet essential expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, within the past year. Women — especially women of color — are most likely to experience difficulties: 34 percent of all women and 57 percent of black women who were repaying student loans reported that they had been unable to meet essential expenses within the past year.

Students who abandon their studies without a degree are more than twice as likely to default on their loans as students who complete their degree programs. The AAUW noted that more than half of student loan defaults result from loan amounts of less than $10,000 and that for-profit educational institutions demonstrate both low degree completion rates and high default rates.

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