Student loan debt is one of the largest epidemics in the United States with the current total for all debt reaching $1.4 trillion dollars. A lesser discussed topic is how this figure affects various demographic groups differently.
The American Association of University Women released a study reporting that women currently hold roughly two-thirds ($833 billion) of outstanding student debt. Minority women represented about 25 percent of those enrolled in a college or university in Fall 2016, but an average of 42 percent of those struggling to repay student loans. When looked at more closely, they found that Black women hold an average of $30,000 in student debt, greater than any other group of women.
As for what factors contribute to these statistics, AAUW CEO Kim Churches says it starts with families saving more for boys than girls. This often leads to women becoming more likely to take out student loans.
Additionally, women who become mothers during their college matriculation often take longer to complete their degree largely due to lack of childcare accessibility. All of these things can contribute to women leaving school altogether, with no degree and large amounts of debt.
Many also point to wage gaps, which are disproportionately larger for women of color, as a primary factor in women’s ability to repay. According to Forbes, women often graduate from college and enter low-paying wages that make it more difficult to tackle their debt.
Solutions? The study proposes repayment options that consider borrowers’ varying circumstances, including income and other costs of living. They also call on the university system to offer better resources by expanding federal Pell grants and providing on-campus child care to help students complete their degrees.
As for things women can personally do, Forbes suggests increasing your financial confidence, as that can be another factor that influences financial decisions. “Women should focus on surrounding themselves with people who have the financial confidence they desire.”
“You need to surround yourself with those who have an abundant mindset,” said financial advisor Jen Hemphill. “Someone who is taking action in improving their finances, someone who is not afraid of getting messy with their finances.”