Analysis: Women Hold Two-Thirds of Country’s $1.4-Trillion Student Debt

Women Hold Majority of College Debt — and Take Longer to Pay It Off

WASHINGTON – A new update to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) report, Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans, finds that women hold almost two-thirds ($890 billion) of the country’s $1.4-trillion student debt while men hold $490 billion.  The student loan gender gap has nearly doubled in the past four years, and women now graduate with an average of $2,700 more debt than men when earning a bachelor’s degree.

The newly-released data from the 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study also reveal that:

  • Women comprise 56 percent of enrolled college students, but hold 65 percent of outstanding student loan debt;
  • 71 percent of women have student loan debt at bachelor’s graduation compared to 66 percent of men; and
  • Black women graduate with the most debt – at $30,400 – compared to $22,000 for white women and $19,500 for white men.

“Student debt levels have reached an all-time high, with women carrying a bigger burden of debt than men,” said Kim Churches, chief executive officer of AAUW. “This debt is an albatross for many women as they embark on careers and work to support their households and families. And, it only gets worse over time when coupled with the gender pay gap.”

The analysis shows how the burdens become compounded by other financial factors – where women take two years longer than men to repay their student loans, in part because of the gender pay gap. Women with college degrees who work full time make, on average, 26 percent less than their male peers, which leaves women with less income to devote to debt repayment. Compared to white men with bachelor’s degrees, black and Hispanic women with bachelor’s degrees make 37 percent and 34 percent less (respectively) and struggle to repay their loans as a result.

“The imbalances compound. Higher student debt, lower pay, child and family care costs, and other factors all add up to leave women at a deficit as they work to maintain financial security. With women leading more households today, enough is enough. Solutions are needed now,” said Churches.

Some key AAUW recommendations for reducing the student loan gender gap include:

  • Safeguarding and expanding Pell Grants for low-income students;
  • Increasing aid for low-income students;
  • Increasing state and federal funding of public colleges and universities;
  • Providing institutional support to help traditional and nontraditional students successfully complete college degrees, such by providing on-campus child care,;
  • Addressing costs beyond tuition, such as books, supplies, and housing;
  • Supporting strong income-driven repayment options and protecting programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness; and
  • Bolstering economic security and opportunity for women, including closing the gender pay gap through passing federal legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Pay Equity for All Act, and state laws, working with employers to change practices, and empowering women to negotiate their own financial futures through salary and other professional support training.

The U.S. Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which has not been reauthorized in a decade. During that time, the number of students with loans has increased from 31.5 million to 45 million.

“With the Higher Education Act, Congress has the opportunity to set today’s students up for success – and that includes making sure they don’t graduate with crippling debt,” said Deborah J. Vagins, senior vice president of public policy and research at AAUW.  “We need to support policies that make higher education accessible and affordable for all students, provide support and protection for student borrowers, and help eliminate the gender and race gaps in student loans.”


The American Association of University Women (AAUW) empowers women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. Our nonpartisan, nonprofit organization has more than 170,000 members and supporters across the United States, as well as 1,000 local branches and 800 college and university members. Since AAUW’s founding in 1881, our members have examined and taken positions on the fundamental issues of the day — educational, social, economic, and political. Learn more and join us at