How Student Loan Debt Affects Women More Than Men

It's not exactly a surprise that student loans and the debt they create for young people is a growing problem in America. According to a new study, however, student loan debt negatively affects American women more than it does men, both financially and emotionally. An extensive new poll by Fusion found that women with student loans owe more money on average than their male counterparts, are more likely to have student loans to begin with, and are disproportionately affected by the stress caused by mounting debt payments.

Student debt is, of course, a serious problem for students of all genders. According to the Fusion poll, which surveyed almost 1,000 Americans between between 18 and 35, about one-third of young people owe money from student loans, with the median amount owed landing at around $18,000. But it's even worse for younger Americans: About 69 percent of people who graduated college in 2014 did so with student debt. Among all of those who borrowed money to fund their educations, 17 percent are more than $40,000 in the hole, and in totality, students and former students owe an estimated $1.3 trillion total in student debt, which is more than all of America's credit card debt combined.

The effects of this debt aren't just hypothetical. In the Fusion survey, 31 percent of those asked said that they'd taken a job they didn't want in order to pay down their debt. About one in four (26 percent) said that their debt caused them to delay buying a house, while 15 percent put off having kids in order to focus on their loan payments. Perhaps worst of all is the fact that among those who've borrowed money to pay for education, 31 percent say that it ultimately wasn't worth it; the high rate of unemployment among recent college grads may have something to do with this.

And yet despite these widespread effects, student debt has had a more severe impact on American women than American men. First of all, women in general are significantly more likely than men to take out student loans to begin with: Almost half (47 percent) of the women surveyed borrowed money to pay for their education, while only one-third (33 percent) of men reported doing the same.

Of course, there is already a wage gap between men and women in America — as of 2013, women working full time earn about 82 percent what full-time working men make, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics — and this makes it significantly harder for women to pay off their student loans. According to the survey, 37 percent of women who've taken out student loans still owe money on them, while only 23 percent of men are still in the hole from their student loans.

Given this disparity, it's not a shock that student debt has taken a harder emotional toll on women than men. In the Fusion survey, two-thirds (67 percent) of women who've borrowed money to pay for their education reported feeling stress as a result of their loans. Only around half (52 percent) of men say that their student loans have stressed them out.

The Obama administration has taken steps to address growing student loans. In a crafty move that received minimal attention at the time, congressional Democrats attached significant student loan reforms to the Affordable Care Act in 2010. These reforms, which didn't really have anything to do with health care, banned commercial banks from participating in (and profiting from) federal student loan programs. Obama has also signed several executive orders aimed at easing the student debt burden; among other things, these orders have capped monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of the borrowers income for many Americans.

All three Democrats running for president have released plans intended to help make student debt more manageable for borrowers; only two of the 15 Republican presidential contenders, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, have done the same.

Images: Fusion (4)