Women Hardest Hit By Student Loan Crisis

They are deeper in debt — and the gender wage gap hinders their ability to pay it off

WASHINGTON — Student loan debt is at an all-time high, and American women — most notably women of color — are bearing the brunt of it, according to a new analysis from the American Association of University Women.

Women hold almost two-thirds of the country’s $1.46-trillion student debt: $929 billion, compared to the $531 billion held by men, the analysis found. Women earning a bachelor’s degree graduate owing an average of $2,700 more than their male peers. What’s more, female college graduates face an immediate gender pay gap when they enter the workforce, making it more difficult for them to pay off student loans.

“Though the class of 2019 includes a record number of women graduating into one of the strongest job markets, the overall picture isn’t quite so bright,” says Kim Churches, AAUW’s CEO. “Many women will begin their careers earning less — and owing more — than their male counterparts, and that sets them up for a lifetime of economic insecurity. It makes it harder for them to buy a home, start a business, save for retirement — and provide for their families. Isn’t it time to address these gender imbalances once and for all?”

AAUW’s groundbreaking Deeper in Debt research finds:

  • The price tag of a college education has more than doubled over the past generation, while household income has risen by only 14 percent.
  • Women graduate owing almost $22,000 in student debt, compared $18,880 owed by men. Black women graduate with about $30,400 in student debt.
  • Women with bachelor’s degrees who work full time make, on average, 26 percent less than their male peers, hampering women’s ability to quickly pay off debt.
  • Women take about two years longer than men to repay student loans and are more likely to struggle economically as they do so. The situation is even more dire for women of color.
  • Women outpace men in earning degrees at all levels. In 2019, women are expected to earn:
    • 61 percent of associate degrees
    • 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees
    • 58 percent of master’s degrees
    • 53 percent of advanced degrees, including doctorate and professional degrees

AAUW’s Multipronged Approach to Closing the Gaps

To help close the student loan gap, AAUW is calling upon lawmakers to safeguard and expand Pell Grants and other forms of aid; to support efforts to move toward tuition-free and debt-free options for students; and to address both the academic and overall financial needs of students including affordable access to child care.

“As an organization committed to gender equity, we 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,” Churches said.

To address the gender pay gap, AAUW is advocating for federal legislation, including the House of Representatives-approved Paycheck Fairness Act, as well for state and local bills aimed at promoting equal pay. AAUW is also working with employers to improve practices and proactively seek out ways to close the gender pay gap.

Additionally, AAUW works directly with women, training them in leadership and negotiation skills so they can maximize their earning potential. It offers Work Smart Online, a free one-hour course designed to train women in salary negotiation. AAUW has set the bold goals of training 10 million women in salary negotiation by 2022 and in closing the gender pay gap by 2030.


More information about AAUW’s salary negotiation workshops, including upcoming events in states and online, is available here. More information on AAUW’s advocacy work at the federal, state, and local level can be found here.


The American Association of University Women (AAUW) advances gender equity for women and girls through research, education, and advocacy. Our nonpartisan, nonprofit organization has more than 170,000 members and supporters across the United States, as well as 1,000 local branches and more than 800 college and university members. Learn more and join us at www.aauw.org.