Published in: Student Loans | Nov. 6, 2019

Forget the Gender Wage Gap. Let's Talk About the Student Debt Gap

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Student debt tends to impact women more so than men. Here's why. 

Student debt is a problem for both men and women. But according to The Ascent's recently published Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2019, women typically borrow more money for college than men, and then, unsurprisingly, have a harder time paying it off. 

A good 41% of female undergraduate students took out student loans during the 2015–16 academic year. Meanwhile, only 35% of male undergrads did the same. 

A female college student studying in a library.

Image source: Getty Images

But it's not just that more female students take on debt; it's that women also owe more money after college. As of 2016, women with bachelor's degrees were carrying an average of $21,619 in outstanding debt. The average student loan debt among men, meanwhile, was $18,880. And while that may not seem like a huge discrepancy, it's actually pretty significant, especially when we consider that the longer borrowers are carrying debt, the more money they spend on student loan interest in the process. 

Why do women carry more debt than men?

The fact that women have more student debt than men could be a function of the gender pay gap. Job site Glassdoor says that women earn only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. As such, it's easier for men to keep up with or get ahead of their student loan payments, and it's easier for women to fall behind or fail to get ahead of their balances. 

Digging out of that hole

Female borrowers may have a natural disadvantage when it comes to repaying their student debt, but that doesn't mean all is lost. If you're eager to shake your loans, a few smart moves could make that possible more quickly than you might think.

First, make sure you're paying a competitive interest rate on that student debt, and if you aren't, look into refinancing to a lower rate. This is a feasible option if your credit score is in good shape (and if it's not, you can work on improving it and then refinance). Keep in mind that if you took out federal loans, you may not save money by refinancing, because federal loans come with a reasonable interest rate to begin with. But if you borrowed privately for college, it pays to see what rates are available to you now. 

In addition to refinancing, it'll help to get on a budget to better manage your personal cash flow. Doing so will help ensure that you're able to keep up with your loan payments. And if you're able to identify ways you can cut back on spending, you'll have an opportunity to apply that saved cash to your outstanding balance, thereby accelerating the repayment process. Sticking to a budget is especially crucial if you're grappling with limited wages while carrying a substantial amount of debt.

Finally, advocate for fair pay if you don't feel your compensation is just. Sites like Glassdoor offer salary comparison tools that help you to weigh your earnings against industry averages. If you find that you're statistically underpaid, you can bring that information to your employer and use it as fuel to negotiate a higher salary. And if you do manage to boost your earnings, you'll have an easier time making your loan payments and paying off that debt quickly. 

Although student debt is a hardship for both male and female borrowers, the latter group tends to bear the brunt of it. Whether that trend will shift over time is yet to be determined, but for now, women should be vigilant about paying down their debt, or better yet, keeping it to a minimum in the first place.

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