More Americans are burdened with student loan debt than ever before, with millennials, in particular, owing a staggering sum — over $1.48 trillion spread out among about 44 million borrowers, according to 2018 estimates. There's no denying that this type of debt is hitting young people, regardless of gender, hard. But is there a chance student loan debt also carries gendered implications, with women being impacted more negatively than men?
The short answer? Yes. The gender pay gap, coupled with the fact that families save and spend more on sons’ educations than daughters’ educations, means that women with student loans tend to pay back their debts slower than their male counterparts. Student loans are then, in a nutshell, a women's issue.
A study by T. Rowe Price examined households with all boys and those with all girls and found that 50 percent of the boy-only families had money saved for college, whereas just 39 percent of girl-only families had money saved. In fact, 17 percent of parents of all boys said they would be able to cover the entire cost of college, compared with just eight percent of parents of all girls. Twenty-three percent of parents of all boys also said that they were willing to personally take on $75,000 or more in student loans compared to only 12 percent of parents of all girls, perhaps because 68 eprcent of parents of all boys said that saving for their kids’ education was a greater priority than saving for retirement, compared to 50 percent of parents of all girls.
Likewise, another study by LendEDU found that 10 percent of men had their higher education paid for by their parents, while just six percent of women could say that their parents had paid for a majority of college. In fact, half of the women studied said that their parents didn’t pay for any of their education at all.
It makes sense, then, that the American Association of University Women found that women typically have larger student loans than men. But burgeoning student loans set women in the workplace back even further, since they already make less than their male counterparts and have to pay off even more debt.
In 2016, women working full time in the United States were typically paid just 80 percent of what men were paid — that's a pay gap of 20 percent, according to The American Association of University Women. While the gap has gotten smaller since the 1970s as more women obtain higher educations and enter the workforce, the rate of change between 1960 and 2016 means that women are still not expected to reach pay equity with men until 2059. The progress even started slowing down in 2001 and has somewhat stalled over the years — if it continues to stall, women might not actually reach pay equity until 2119.
Moreover, the pay gap among men and women who have just recently graduated college is widening, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute. The study found that women earn $17.88 on average during their first four years post-college, while their male counterparts make $20.87 — that represents a divide that’s larger than it was more than a decade ago.
So, parents are saving and spending more on sons’ college educations than on daughters’, and then women go into the workforce making less money than their male peers right out the gate, and their futures aren’t too promising with regards to eventually earning equal pay either.
“I don’t think parents are going to admit to their 18-year-old daughter that they don’t want to pay as much for her education because they are thinking 10 years down the road to her wedding,” Shereem Herndon-Brown, a former college admissions director and founder of Strategic Admissions Advice LLC, told The Wall Street Journal.
We live in a world where women are still expected to get married and be wives, but yet more women than men enter college in the first place. In fact, over the past half-century, women have consistently dominated men at school. Starting with people born in the 1950s, American women have been more likely to graduate from high school and, starting with people born in the 1960s, women have also graduated at higher rates than men. Today, women earn the majority of college degrees in this country, and that goes for associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
So, why do families continue to anticipate their daughters’ weddings instead of their daughters’ futures? And why do companies continue to anticipate women’s family plans instead of their promotion plans?
Unconscious biases plague women in the workplace, but research has brought these biases to the forefront of the news agenda. We are collectively conscious of them, and it’s about time both families and companies realize them and act to avoid perpetuating them.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.