If U.S. lawmakers ever decide to reform the student loan system to reduce the financial burden on borrowers, women stand to gain the most because they are much more likely than men to be negatively impacted by student debt. In some cases women even have to choose between paying down their student loans or starting a family.
Around 45 million Americans owe a combined total of $1.7 trillion in federal and private student loans, MSNBC reported last week. About two-thirds of them are women.
Because of the gender wage gap, women on average have less money to put toward their student debt than men. Women of color have it even worse because of pay gaps based on race or ethnic background. A recent survey from CNBC and Momentive found that Black and Hispanic women are twice as likely as their male counterparts to have student debt.
Women also tend to have higher student loan balances — an average of $31,276 vs. $29,270 for men, according to a 2021 study by the American Association of University Women. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference — until you factor in average wages.
“When women graduate, their debt repayment collides with the gender wage gap and racial wealth gap to make it harder for them to repay their loans,” the AAUW report said. “Interest then accrues, further widening the debt burden.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, women who graduated with a bachelor’s degree expected to earn an average of $35,338 their first year out of college, or about 81% of what men expected to earn. The gap likely widened during the pandemic because a disproportionate number of women had to leave the workforce or reduce their hours to care for home-schooled kids.
The AAUW study found that women spend an average of $920 per month on housing, $396 on car loans or leases, and $307 on student loans. For the 16% who are mothers, an additional $520 goes towards childcare every month, which leaves a monthly deficit of $372.
One result is that some women might have put off saving for retirement, buying a home, launching a business — or starting a family. Among the latter group is Tasha Kaminsky, 33, a director of development at a non-profit organization in St. Louis.
In a recent interview with MSNBC, Kaminsky said she would love to have children, and she seems a perfect candidate: She’s happily married, has a stable job and owns a home. But she still owes more than $100,000 in student debt from loans she took out a decade ago. Adding a child to the mix would make her financial situation almost untenable.
“We can either continue to live comfortably, or we can live on a shoestring budget because of the student loans,” Kaminsky told MSNBC.
The best outcome for borrowers like Kaminsky is for President Joe Biden to take action to forgive all or part of federal student loans. That hasn’t happened yet. As it stands, the federal student loan pause is set to expire on August 31, 2022.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Student Loan Debt Is Now So High Women Are Being Forced To Choose Between Paying Loans and Having a Family