Women account for two-thirds of the country's student loan debt. Here's how it affects them (2023)

Like most Americans, Amy Eichberger wasn’t raised by parents who could easily afford her college tuition. Her dad died before she was born, and her mom lived paycheck to paycheck. Eichberger, by her ownaccount, wasn’t the best student in high school and struggled to get scholarships.

So, she had to take out loans.

This was in the early 1990s. Tuition for the community college in her Connecticut town cost no more than a few hundred bucks a semester. But upon getting her associate’s degree and thriving in an academic setting, she decided to level up, getting her bachelor’s in public health. Then, facing lacklusterjobprospects, she pursueda master’s in health care administration. Eventually, she went back to school again, completing a two-year graduate program required of her current job.

All in all, she owed $349,769.18 for that education.

Americans now hold$1.7trillion in student loan debt. Nearly two-thirds of that money – at least $929 billion – is owed by women.

Eichberger was in search of economic mobility – of moving from working to middle class. And indeed, her opportunities expanded as her credentials grew. Yet tuition rates soared at the same time: The average cost of attendance at a four-year college nearly tripled between 1980 and 2019. Eichberger’s debt snowballed at every turn in her academic journey, as did her expenses. She had a daughter, and became a single mother, while getting her master’s.

“I took out loans for everything because I'm not making $1 million a year,” said Eichberger, 51. “It just piled on, just kept piling on.”

Women account for two-thirds of the country's student loan debt. Here's how it affects them (1)

The debt Eichberger was left with – more than her house is worth – is exceptional. On average, borrowers with graduate degrees have roughly $103,000 in student loans. But the circumstances she faced are not that unusual, particularly among the country’s women.

According to research published in 2021 by the American Association of University Women, women with bachelor’s degrees graduate with an average of $2,700 more in student loan debt than their male peers. That gap compounds over time, as women take two years longer on average to pay off their debt, the interest adding up all the while.

As borrowers await the Supreme Court’s decision on a plan to provide mass student debt forgiveness, USA TODAY examined what’s behind the gender imbalances in the amount that borrowers take out and in their ability to pay those loans back.

(Video) Women hold 2/3 of student debt in the country, burden most felt by women of color

Get ready:Regardless of SCOTUS decision, 25 million people will have to repay student debt.

First, what’s going on with student loans?

President Joe Biden has made it a top priority to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for middle- and low-income Americans. The conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court is now deliberating two cases that challenge Biden’s plan, with most of its right-leaning justices signaling clear skepticism of the plan’s merits and the administration’s authority in granting relief.

The status of various student loan-related programs and initiatives rests on the high court’s decision. Under former President Donald Trump, for example, the Education Department, citing the pandemic’s emergency circumstances issued a moratorium on student loan repayments. The country’s tens of millions of borrowers haven’t had to make repayments in the years since, with Biden repeatedlyextending the pause.

Women account for two-thirds of the country's student loan debt. Here's how it affects them (2)

But those repayments could return as soon as this summer, pending the Supreme Court’s ruling. A separate lawsuit is pushing for a quicker end to the payment pause.

Then last week, Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would ban Biden's loan forgiveness plan, even while it's on hold and before the Supreme Court.

Advocates worry about what all of this meansfor women in particular.

More:With Biden's student loan debt forgiveness in limbo, lawmakers consider colleges' role

OK, so why do women have more student debt than men?

Thanks largely to her advanced education, including a certificate program she completed relatively recently, Eichberger secured a white-collar HR job at Yale New Haven Health. But it wasn’t enough to cover the nearly $5,000-a-month she owed for her loans.

Women account for two-thirds of the country's student loan debt. Here's how it affects them (3)

She wound up getting a second job doing manual labor in an Amazon warehouse on Saturdays and Sundays to help pay off the debt and affordnecessities such as groceries. The pandemic had just hit and the moratorium on repayments had begun, but Eichberger was preparing for their imminent return.

Women, and women of color in particular, are paid less than similarly educated men for the same jobs. So, they are more likely to return to school to bolster their resumes and earn a salary that can support all their expenses, which areoften greater than that of men.

(Video) Change your channel | Mallence Bart-Williams | TEDxBerlinSalon

“Women are out there getting degrees because women are required on so many levels to bring credentials to the table,” said Gloria L. Blackwell, CEO of the AAUW. “That's why that proportion of student debt is so high – these women have to constantly prove themselves over and over again.”

More:How the student loan payment pause changed people’s lives

Student debt relief blocked,potentially hurting Black and Latino families the most

Consider these statistics:

  • Women who graduate with a bachelor’s degree earn roughly $35,000 on average – just 81% of what their male peers make.
  • A year after college, women hold a little more than $31,000 in student loan debt, which works out to a $307 monthly payment. Yet the average woman a year out of college spends more than $1,300 on housing and car payments a month, plus another $520 on child care expenses for the 16% of recent female graduates who are moms.“Adding in that $307 student loan payment makes it difficult – if not downright impossible – to make ends meet,” the AAUW report notes.
  • Black women ages 25-64 who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and work full timehad a median salary of $60,681 in 2020, according to the Education Trust's research. The median salary for similarly educated white men was $91,805, while it was $75,329 for Black men and $67,324 for white women.
  • The average Black woman needs at least a bachelor’s degree to earn a higher salary than an average white man with no college degree.

Eichberger didn't get paid maternity leave so she had to go into forbearance during that time, still accruing interest. Child care needs also forced her to take lower-paying jobs than she would otherwise so she could have a flexible schedule.

"It is basically stretching out your loan, many, manymore years with many, many more years of interest being tacked on," she said.

Equal Pay Day? Not for teachers:Why men make more than women in female-dominated field.

For Black women, 'more debt does not equate to a higher salary'

College costs have soared over the past several decades, far outpacing inflation and increases in financial aid such as Pell Grants that are reserved for low-income students. Declining state funding for public higher-education institutions is a key reason for the ballooning in costs.

Will this make a difference?The Pell Grant amount will rise by $500 in 2023.

In 1980, according to research by the nonprofit Education Trust, the maximum Pell Grant covered more than half of the cost of a public four-year college. By the 2020-21 school year, the maximum Pell Grant covered just 28%.

(Video) How Student Loan Debt Impacts Women and Men Differently

Students without the means have been forced to take out more student loans as a result. The challenges are particularly pronounced among women of color, who are far more likely than their male peers to attend college but far less likely than white women to be able to afford it.

More:Women still don't get the top jobs or pay even in industries they dominate

“The notion is that you get a degree so you can be competitive in the workforce,” said Brittani Williams, who co-authored the Education Trust brief and is herself a Black woman borrower and mother in the midst of completing her PhD. But for women, and especially those of color, “more debt does not equate to a higher salary.”

Still, Williams doesn't question the worth of her college studies. "For those of us who hold degrees, even with the student loan debt, we see greater opportunity than those who for whatever extenuating reason could not complete that degree," she said. "I hope we don't lose that ideal" of higher education as a path to the middle class for women and people of color.

Women account for two-thirds of the country's student loan debt. Here's how it affects them (4)

For Williams and Blackwell, bringing college costs down is key to solving the student loan crisis.

“At the end of the day, college should be affordable for everyone – not just for an elite few,” Blackwell said."And women, in particular women of color, shouldn't have to sacrifice their financial future to get the education that certainly is a potential pathway for equal economic opportunity."

Is college worth it?Americans say they value higher education, but it's too expensive for many

Confusion over Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Biden is also working to reduce the burden of debt on borrowers eligible for public service loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment.

Public-service loan forgiveness, or PSLF, relieves the student debt for people such as teachers, military members, first responders and certain healthcare workers after they’ve spent a decade on the job. But the rules have never been clear, and the administration of the program has always been messy.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness:Feds bet on changes to rules for another debt relief option

(Video) LIVE: The National Desk l America's News Now

Despite working in eligible roles for more than a quarter century, Eichberger for her part long struggled to have her debt forgiventhrough the program. She says she’d submit forms and never hear back.

“I was like, ‘Okay, I'm just stuck with this debt. It’s going to be here until I die. My kid’s going to inherit it,’” Eichberger said.

"You live in denial but it was always sitting over there. It was so daunting – that’s your life. And then you second guess that (the degrees) were worth it but you can’t do anything about it now.”

Less than 1%:More than 41,000 public service workers sought federal student loan forgiveness. The government approved just 206.

Last year, with the help of a student loan coaching service offered through her health-care job, she resubmitted a PSLFapplication. She didn’t think the coaching service,called EdAssist by Bright Horizons, would work. But in Januaryshe received a life-changing letter: Her nearly $350,000 in student debt had been erased. She owed $0.

The revelation has since become bittersweet. Eichberger’s 26-year-old daughter – an aspiring sign language interpreter – tried college for a semester before dropping out. Shetold Eichberger it was her fear of loans, having seen what they did to her mother and their family, that convinced her to give up.

“This is probably what hurts me the worst," Eichberger said.“She saw my struggle, which made her not want to further her education.”

A mixed bag:Debt relief will change the lives of some with student loans, but fall short for others.

Contact Alia Wong at (202) 507-2256 or awong@usatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @aliaemily.


How does student debt affect women? ›

Student debt is making it nearly impossible for many women to afford their basic living expenses after graduating from college. AAUW's 2021 Deeper in Debt report finds: Women hold an average of $31,276 in student debt, leaving them with a monthly loan payment of $307 the year after graduation.

Is two thirds of student loan debt held by women? ›

Women hold almost 2/3 of the country's $1.54-trillion student debt: $929 billion. Women earning a bachelor's degree graduate owing an average of $2,700 more than their male peers. Student debt is the second-highest source of household debt after housing.

Why do women hold more student debt? ›

Therefore, there is a financial gap that many female students have no choice but to bridge with student loans. Additionally, women are more likely to spend more time in higher education than men. It is a simple reality that the more time spent in higher education, the more student loans are necessary to cover tuition.

Who has more student loan debt men or women? ›

Women are more likely than men to hold debt, and men's higher incomes allow them to pay down their debt faster than women. Black men and Black women both start out with more student debt than their white counterparts, and because of their lower earnings, they pay it down more slowly.

Who is mostly affected by student loan debt? ›

70% of White and Caucasian student borrowers have student loan debt. Four years after graduation, 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more than they borrowed. After that same period, 83% of White students owe 12% less than they borrowed.

Why are so many women in debt? ›

Women take more time off than men

As women are more likely to take time off from the workforce to care for children or aging parents, they tend to earn less over time. The earnings gap is smaller early in one's career, but widens significantly as workers age, get married and raise families.

Do women hold most of the debt? ›

Men have 20% more personal loan debt than women. Men have 16.3% more auto loan debt than women. Men have 9.7% more mortgage debt than women. Women have 2.7% more student loan debt than men.

How much student debt is owed by women? ›

Americans now hold $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. Nearly two-thirds of that money – at least $929 billion – is owed by women.

Do women have more debt than men? ›

This isn't to say there are no differences in how men and women apply for and use debt and credit. Indeed, men carry more overall debt than women, including across most debt categories. But women carry more student loan debt and often have more credit cards.

What is the main cause of student debt? ›

Students are generally borrowing more because college tuition has grown many times faster than income. The cost of college—and resulting debt—is higher in the United States than in almost all other wealthy countries, where higher education is often free or heavily subsidized.

Why student loans are a problem? ›

The debt burden not only impacts that generation, limiting their employment options and slowing their financial progress, but it also impacts future generations. A family will have a hard time saving up for college costs for their children if mom and dad are still paying off their loans.

Why is student debt bad for students? ›

Default Can Lead to Serious Consequences

If you default on your student loan payments, it can have a devastating impact on your credit score, making it harder to obtain other forms of credit when you need them. Additionally, debt collectors may add expensive fees, increasing the amount you owe.

Who owns the majority of student debt? ›

According to the office of Federal Student Aid, $1.62 trillion, or 93% of all student loan debt, is federal student loans. The remaining $131 billion (7%) is owed to private lenders, according to this Q3 2021 report from MeasureOne.

Who is struggling with student loan debt? ›

In 2021, 17 percent of Black borrowers and 18 percent of Latinx borrowers reported being behind on their student loan debt compared to 9 percent of white borrowers. More debt and less support have undeniably led to long-term debt burden and severe financial consequences.

Who is most affected by student loan forgiveness? ›

Student loans are not just a problem for young adults. The Department of Education estimates that more than one-third of the borrowers who will get relief are age 40 and up, including 5 percent who are senior citizens.

Who is impacted by student loan forgiveness? ›

The plan would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student debt for individuals making less than $125,000 a year and married couples making less than $250,000 a year. Additionally, the student loans of income-eligible individuals who received Pell grants would be reduced by up to $20,000.

Why are there so few women in finance? ›

Some possible reasons for the disparity include: Women are less likely to have a background in finance. Women are less likely to be promoted to senior roles in finance. Women face gender discrimination in the financial industry.

Do men save more money than women? ›

There's a gender gap in retirement savings, including 401(k) contributions. Women have significantly less money saved for retirement than men.

Why are there so many women in accounting? ›

Females are in high demand for accounting positions, especially those with experience in public practice and auditing roles. It is because many organizations want to benefit from the diversity of perspectives and insights that women can bring to the table.

What percentage of money do women control? ›

Women control only a third of household financial assets in the United States—for now. August 10, 2020 Americans hold about $35 trillion in household wealth. Roughly 70 percent of affluent-household investable assets are controlled by baby boomers.

Who is at fault for the student loan crisis? ›

While economists are divided on who to blame for the student loan crisis, nearly all experts agree the primary fault does not lie with student borrowers. Some instead blame colleges, pointing to tuition rates at private institutions that skyrocketed from $17k in 1988 to nearly $36k three decades later.

What race has the highest student loan debt? ›

Black adults are 1.5 times more likely than white adults to have student loan debt. The following graph includes federal and private student loan debt among all adults. On average, Black, non-Hispanic adults in the U.S. also hold higher student loan debt balances than borrowers of other races.

How much debt do women have in statistics? ›

The gender wage gap has an impact on women's debt. For instance, women and men owe a similar average in credit cards, $6,232 for women, $6,357 for men, according to Experian. Women also owe an average $192,368 for mortgages, compared to $211,034 for men.

What percentage of Black women have student debt? ›

The situation is even more significant for women of color. 41% of female undergraduates take on student debt, compared to 35% of male undergraduates, and more women take on debt for graduate studies as well. More than 70% of Black students go into debt to pay for higher education, compared to 56% of white students.

Which gender spends the most? ›

A Consumer Expenditure Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics studied the spending choices of single women and single men. Here's what they found: Overall spending: Single men outspent single women. Men spent an average of $41,203 a year as opposed to $38,838 by women.

What is the leading cause of debt in the United States? ›

Mortgage balances, the largest source of debt for most Americans, rose 5.9 percent between 2020 and 2021.

Who has better credit men or women? ›

Men vs.

A December 2015 study by credit reporting bureau Experian found that, on average, women have slightly BETTER credit scores than men do – 675 vs.

What is the root cause of student debt crisis? ›

There are several factors that have contributed to the student loan debt crisis in the U.S., beginning with rising tuition prices. For the 2020-2021 academic year, the average cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at a public four-year university totaled $43,280 for out-of-state students.

How can we solve student debt? ›

  1. Forgive student loan debt.
  2. Streamline existing forgiveness programs.
  3. Cut or lower interest rates.
  4. Condense income-driven repayment.
  5. Fixes to income-driven repayment forgiveness.
  6. Make college tuition-free.
  7. Expand Pell Grants.
Jan 20, 2023

Are student loans helpful or harmful? ›

In the good debt versus bad debt debate, student loans fall into a gray area. They can be considered good debt because the money you're borrowing to attend school is your ticket to earning a degree and getting hired at a well-paying job. That debt should pay itself off over time with a lucrative career in place.

Why are student loans a problem in America? ›

It's the result of a decades-long explosion in borrowing coupled with soaring education costs. The Federal Reserve data shows people under the age of 30 are more likely to have student loan debt compared with older adults – underscoring the crippling burden on another generation of Americans.

Why should student loans be banned? ›

Student loan debt has infantilized a generation or more of Americans, preventing them from achieving milestones such as getting married, buying a house, or saving for retirement. Discharging such debt would help foster a healthier, most productive, more socially constructive citizenry.

Why student loans shouldn't be forgiven? ›

Student loan forgiveness won't lower the cost of college. Fifth, Blunt says wide-scale student loan forgiveness will increase the cost of college. Why? Future student loan borrowers will borrow student loans and think they won't have to pay them back.

How is student debt hurting the economy? ›

Debt Inhibits Business Growth

Would-be entrepreneurs are 11% less likely to start a new business if they owe more than $30,000 in student loan debt. The average student loan debt per borrower is $37,750. Businesses with fewer than 20 employees create a net of approximately 466,600 new jobs annually.

Why is it so hard to pay off student loans? ›

If you're wondering, why do student loans take so long to pay off? Capitalized interest may be the culprit. Complicating the issue is the fact that borrowers who opt for an income-driven repayment plan after graduating may not be earning enough to keep up with the total interest accrued.

Who profits off of student loans? ›

Student loans are owned by the federal government or private institutions, depending on the type of student loan. Federal student loans are owned by the U.S. Department of Education while private student loans are owned by the financial institution that granted them.

Does the government profit from student loans? ›

So, even if the loan program initially looks like it yields a profit, it may ultimately yield a net cost after the program costs are re-estimated. The focus of federal student loan programs is on enabling students to pay for a college education and not to provide profit to the federal government.

Can rich people get federal student loans? ›

Even if a student will not qualify for grants, filing the FAFSA makes them eligible for low-cost federal student loans, which are usually less expensive than private student loans. Even wealthy students will qualify for the unsubsidized Federal Direct Stafford Loan and the Federal Parent PLUS Loan.

How much of student debt do women owe? ›

Americans now hold $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. Nearly two-thirds of that money – at least $929 billion – is owed by women.

What gender is most in debt? ›

Experian compared debt balances among men and women and found that, on average:
  • Men have 2% more credit card debt than women.
  • Men have 20% more personal loan debt than women.
  • Men have 16.3% more auto loan debt than women.
  • Men have 9.7% more mortgage debt than women.
  • Women have 2.7% more student loan debt than men.
Nov 1, 2022

How much student debt do women hold? ›

Conquer your student debt. Refinance now.

Women hold about 65% of the overwhelming $1.6 trillion in student debt in the US.

Are women more likely to be in debt? ›

A report by the Education Data Initiative found that women are more likely to have high student debt balances and large monthly student loan payments—even though they make 26 percent less than their male counterparts. And despite the larger payments, women often take two years longer to pay off their loans.

Who do we owe the most debt to? ›

With $1.1 trillion in Treasury holdings, Japan is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. Japan surpassed China as the top holder in 2019 as China shed over $250 billion, or 30% of its holdings in four years.

Who has the worst debt? ›

In terms of raw dollars, the country with the highest debt in the world is unquestionably the United States, whose national debt is more than twice that of any other country.
National Debt by Country / Countries with the Highest National Debt 2023.
Data Year2021
Debt (millions US$)$16,782
Debt (%GDP)106.37%
Debt Per Capita$522
49 more columns

Who are the people with the biggest debts? ›

Jerome Kerviel: The most indebted person in the world, owes $4.9 billion.

What percentage of black women have student debt? ›

The situation is even more significant for women of color. 41% of female undergraduates take on student debt, compared to 35% of male undergraduates, and more women take on debt for graduate studies as well. More than 70% of Black students go into debt to pay for higher education, compared to 56% of white students.

Why should student loans be forgiven? ›

Student loan debt is slowing the national economy. Forgiveness would boost the economy, benefiting everyone. Student loan debt slows new business growth and quashes consumer spending.

What race is most in debt? ›

Black adults are 1.5 times more likely than white adults to have student loan debt. The following graph includes federal and private student loan debt among all adults. On average, Black, non-Hispanic adults in the U.S. also hold higher student loan debt balances than borrowers of other races.

Are women more financially stable than men? ›

In our study, women were more likely than men to report a household income of $30,000 or less (29% versus 25%). Among women who have household incomes under $30,000, only 4% are Financially Healthy.


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