Women Doubly Squeezed By Student Debt

Loan payments limit ability to meet living costs

WASHINGTON DC — Student debt is making it nearly impossible for many women to afford their basic living expenses after graduating from college, a new analysis by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) shows.

  • The 2021 AAUW’s Deeper in Debt report finds that women hold an average of $31,276 in student debt, leaving them with a monthly loan payment of $307 the year after graduation. Given that women graduating with a bachelor’s degree expect to earn an average of $35,338—only 81% of what men anticipate earning—meeting that loan obligation is challenging at best.
  • One year after college, women spend an average of $920 per month on housing, $396 per month on a car loan and, for the 16% of women who are moms, $520 on childcare, the report finds. Adding in that $307 student loan payment makes it difficult—if not downright —to make ends meet.

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“This untenable level of debt is forcing many women to delay major life milestones, such as buying a home, starting a family and building the nest egg for retirement,” said AAUW CEO Kim Churches. “We cannot continue to no longer ignore the student debt crisis— especially since women’s disproportionate share of job losses during the pandemic further undercuts their ability to pay back student loans. We need our policy makers to take action right away.”

Black Women Owe 20% More

The Deeper in Debt analysis also found that Black women carry about 20% more student debt than white women do. One year after graduation, white women owe $33,851 on undergraduate loans, while Black women owe an average of $41,466. Cumulative debt on graduate loans is $75,085 for Black women, compared to $56,098 for white women.

“This is yet another example of how systemic racism and systemic sexism conspire in a way that puts Black women at an even greater disadvantage,” said Churches. “The specific needs of women of color must be paramount in any policies we adopt to address this crisis.”

AAUW calls on state and local governments to make college more affordable for low- and moderate-income students by investing more in public institutions. AAUW also supports increasing and expanding federal Pell Grants, as well equitable forgiveness of student debt for all borrowers.

“Student debt is a crushing burden for millions of women, but it is also a drain on our economy,” Churches said.  “We need to make college accessible and affordable to everyone. Getting a good education and becoming a productive member of society should not come at such an enormous cost.”