The stress of student loan debt stretches far beyond the financial burden. According to a recent study by Gallup, Americans who graduated between 1990 and 2014 with $50,000 or more in student loan debt were less likely to thrive in four out of five elements of well-being. The results of this study suggest that for numerous Americans, the repercussions of student loan debt ripple throughout many aspects of life.
Gallup surveyed more than 11,000 Americans and measured happiness with the Gallup Well-Being Index. The study includes those who graduated from college over a 25-year period, granting Gallup a window into how increasing debt has impacted well-being over time.
The index’s five elements of well-being include purpose, social, financial, community and physical. Aside from the obvious impact on financial well-being, Gallup found a correlation between high student loan debt and lower purpose, community, and physical well-being. Those with large amounts of debt scored 15 points lower in financial well-being, 10 points lower in physical well-being and 9 points lower in purpose.
Though the relationship between student loans and the element of community is more obscure, the study found that those with debt scored five points lower than their debt-free counterparts. The report found no statistically significant difference in social well-being.
The presence of “thriving gaps” between the indebted and debt-free hold vast implications. Though many thinks tanks such as the Pew Research Center have expounded upon the value of a college education, Gallup’s report suggests that the variable of student debt can offset the benefits of a college degree.
There are many theories that explain why student loan debt is decreasing well-being. Gallup suggests that the burden of debt prevents graduates from pursuing their dreams or making life-altering decisions.
“Studies show that high student debt can result in the deferral of major life events, such as marriage and homeownership. High student debt can also result in a graduate pursuing a career path he or she would not have taken otherwise,” Gallup said.
In the conclusion of its study, Gallup warns that it didn’t take into account those who didn’t finish their degree, nor does it argue that student loans are the only variable impacting graduate well-being.
While the report is open to further investigation and research, it gives policymakers food for thought as they debate new legislation to refinance student loans.