Women Shoulder Two-thirds of America’s $1.7 Trillion Student Debt

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In a nation where student debt is skyrocketing, the burden disproportionately falls on women, who carry two-thirds of America’s $1.7 trillion federal student loan debt. Despite the increasing number of women enrolling in higher education to secure better employment prospects and salaries, the gender pay gap persists. Women with a bachelor’s degree earn only 70 cents for every dollar earned by men, making the repayment of student loans a strenuous endeavor. This issue is set to intensify as loan repayments resume next month following a three-year pandemic-induced forbearance, while inflation continues to squeeze budgets.

As we delve deeper into the issue, Gloria Blackwell, CEO of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), highlights a vicious cycle. Women are amassing more degrees, and therefore more debt, but earning less, which prolongs their debt repayment period. This situation is particularly acute for women of color who face an even wider wage gap. With the looming requirement that 40% of all jobs will demand a bachelor’s or master’s degree by 2027, and the fact that 74% of female students plan to continue their education beyond a bachelor’s degree, the crisis is set to escalate.

Women Bear the Brunt of Student Loan Crisis Amid Gender Wage Gap

The stark reality of the ongoing student loan crisis is shaping up to be a major women’s issue in the United States. In a country where the federal student loan debt exceeds $1.7 trillion, women are bearing the brunt of repayments, holding two-thirds of the total debt. This is in spite of the fact that women with a bachelor’s degree earn a mere 70 cents to every dollar earned by men, making loan repayment an even greater challenge.

The Impact of the Pandemic and Inflation

The issue is set to intensify as loan repayments resume after a three-year pause due to the pandemic. With inflation posing an additional burden on budgets, the disparity between men’s and women’s repayments will be thrown into sharp relief. “Women have taken on more degrees, more debt, and they are earning less. It takes them longer to pay off that debt," says Gloria Blackwell, CEO of the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Women’s Education and Work

By 2027, it’s projected that 40% of all jobs will require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, leading 74% of female students to plan for education beyond a bachelor’s degree. Despite the fact that women are more likely to hold a college degree than men, this doesn’t necessarily translate to financial security, particularly for women of color. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study revealed that while white women earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn, this figure drops to 63 cents for Black women and 58 cents for Latinx women.

Caregiving and Financial Security

Women often bear the responsibility of unpaid caregiving for children and adults, negatively impacting their financial stability. On average, a woman loses $237,000 in lifetime earnings due to caregiving, as per a report from the Urban Institute. It was also found that caregivers often accrue more debt, deplete their emergency savings, and halt saving for future emergencies.

Advocacy and Pay Transparency

Advocacy to address the student debt crisis among women is crucial. The implementation of pay transparency laws in recent years has shown promise in reducing the pay gap. A study found that transparent organizations experienced a 45% reduction in the gender pay gap compared to those that didn’t disclose pay. Gloria Blackwell suggests that making workplaces equitable and ensuring women are paid their worth could level the playing field.


It’s clear that the student loan crisis disproportionately affects women, particularly those of color. The problem is exacerbated by the gender and racial wage gaps, along with the financial impact of unpaid caregiving. However, the enforcement of pay transparency laws and a concerted effort to ensure pay equity in workplaces could represent significant steps towards mitigating this issue. Advocacy and policy reform will be key to addressing this systemic issue and promoting greater financial security for all women.

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