A study conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that women have a harder time paying back their student loans one year after college than their male counterparts. Although they pay the same amount for college tuition and take out the same loans as male students, 53 percent of women devote more than 8 percent of their income to student debt payments, which is more than most graduates can reasonably afford. Only 39 percent of male graduates, however, are experiencing the same struggle.
After controlling for factors such as major, hours worked, and type of job, the AAUW found that women earned seven percent less than male graduates. The study argues that this discrepancy in earnings is causing female college graduates to flounder as they strive to keep up with loan payments and start their lives.
“For many young women, the challenge of paying back student loans is their first encounter with the pay gap,” the AAUW writes.
The AAUW released this study in preparation for the introduction of Senator Elizabeth Warrenâ€™s (D-MA) Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. The bill has been rejected by the Senate twice, but its growing status as a womenâ€™s issue is more relevant than ever.
Early in her campaign to raise support for student loan refinancing, Warren aptly described student loans as â€œa one-two punch. Women take on big debts to go to college, but they have less money to pay off those debts.â€
While most burdened with student debt are young, single, and childless, a large amount of debt can have reaching consequences far into a graduateâ€™s future. According to NPR, a high amount of debt makes women less able to pay for other expenses. A lack of available funds could mean the difference between starting a business, moving out of the family home, and saving for future family expenses. After marriage, outstanding debt becomes a joint burden that could prevent a couple from buying a home, having more children, or sending their children to college.
The AAUWâ€™s observation that women struggle more with student debt a year after graduation is also significant because the wage gap widens over time. Starting salaries are more equal between the sexes immediately after graduation, but as graduates settle into their careers, women start falling behind their male peers in terms of earnings. Studies suggest that women make less money because they are less likely to negotiate a salary and more likely to be penalized for asking for a raise.
Unable to negotiate or attain a decent salary to pay off exorbitant loan interest, women truly are suffering from the one-two punch of student debt.