Disturbing Student Loan Statistics on Gender and Race

Today’s post is a special article written by a reader of the site who approached us with a desire to publish some analysis on how student loans are impacting women and minorities compared with the general population. It was originally published August 24th, 2018, but has been updated for clarity.

The U.S. has a student debt problem – that much is clear. With over 44 million individuals owing around $1.4 trillion for their education1, an average student borrower graduates with an undergraduate degree and roughly $30,000 in student loans (a lovely parting gift).2 Something that isn’t as clear, however, is that student debt is even more of a problem if you are black or a woman (and especially if you’re a black woman).

Student Loan Statistics by Gender and Race

There are a number of alarming statistics when it comes to gender and racial disparities in student loans. For example, as of May 2018, women represent 56% of the college student population (which is wonderful!) but hold almost two-thirds – about $890 billion – of the total outstanding student loan debt.3 In another example, a Brookings study found that black college graduates owe $7,400 more than their white peers at graduation; this debt gap more than triples over the next few years to $25,000.4 These examples highlight two serious problems: that women and most non-white groups are acquiring more debt and that they taking longer to repay it.

Why Do Black Borrowers and Females owe More?

There are a number of reasons why individuals in these vulnerable groups may take on more debt than their counterparts. One such reason has to do with how much money a family can contribute to their student’s education. On average in the U.S., a black family has 16 times less accrued wealth (e.g., investments, savings, real property holdings) than a white family.5 With this additional wealth, a white family is capable of contributing more than twice the amount of a black family. Even starker, a white male’s family is expected to contribute more than three times the amount a black female’s family is expected to contribute.6

A reason for both taking on more debt and being slower to repay the debt could be explained, in part, by the payroll gap. For example, according to one study, a woman earns roughly 80 cents for every dollar that a man takes home.7 Less income means they have less money to contribute to their education, so they must take on a larger debt. The gap in pay also hits them after they graduate because the lower income means their repayments are smaller, and with the glory of compounding interest, smaller payments means it takes longer and more money to pay the debt back.

But, you may be thinking to yourself, “The payroll gap is a statistic for all men and women regardless of their education – maybe the payroll gap wouldn’t be so bad among the more educated individuals.” Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. The U.S. Department of Education, for instance, studied individuals who received a bachelor’s degree in the 2007-08 school year and observed how they were doing in 2012. Among the degree recipients who were employed in 2012, the average male salary was $54,700, while the average female salary was $43,600 (that’s 80 cents on the dollar for those who are counting).8

Why gender and race student debt disparities matter…

Even if you aren’t one of the individuals who is hit by the inequalities, the disparities still have a larger effect on society and the economy. Studies are beginning to show the ill-effects of the greater student debt being thrown upon those individuals. Women and blacks are waiting longer to marry and have children. Additionally, they are delaying buying homes and other large purchases. Less participation in these basic social and economic functions hurts everybody.


1The American Association of University Women (AAUW), Women’s Student Debt Crisis in the United States, https://www.aauw.org/research/deeper-in-debt/(May 2018).
2The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), State by State Data for 2015, https://ticas.org/posd/state-state-data-2015;see also the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES), National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Condition of Education 2016, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/Indicator_CUB/coe_CUB_2016_05.pdf(detailing 2011-2012 data, indicating an upward trend in accumulated debt).
3The American Association of University Women (AAUW), Women’s Student Debt Crisis in the United States, https://www.aauw.org/research/deeper-in-debt/(May 2018).
4Brookings, Evidence Speaks Reports, Volume 2, #3, Black-white disparity in student loan debt more than triples after graduation, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/es_20161020_scott-clayton_evidence_speaks.pdf(October 2016).
5AAUW, Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans(May 2017), pg. 19; see also, Sullivan, L., Meshede, T., Dietrich, L., Shapiro, T., Traub, A., Ruetschlin, C., & Draut, T. The racial wealth gap: Why policy matters(2015).
6AAUW, Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans(May 2017), pg. 19 (explaining the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of expected family contribution (EFC)).  Something that is unexplained, however, is why a families’ EFC is less for women than for men ($7,529 to $8,888 respectively in 2011-2012).
7AAUW, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap, https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/.
8U.S. Department of Education, NCES 2018-401, Web Tables – Debt After College: Employment, Enrollment, and Student-Reported Stress and Outcomes(March 2018).

About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

2 thoughts on “Disturbing Student Loan Statistics on Gender and Race”

  1. The US does not have a student loan problem. Students who voluntarily took out loans have a debt problem. There are many ways to pay for college if on chooses to go other than student loans.

    While it seems women and minorities take on more debt and some are slower at paying it back, how is it fair for a blue collar working person to pay for a “student loan forgiveness program”?

    • Hi Russ,

      Thanks for commenting and participating in the discussion.

      President Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a statistic that only 25% of federal student loan borrowers are actually paying down their federal student loans (many are making payments, but the payment is smaller than the interest generated each month, so their loan balances are increasing).

      One of the worst offenders in the higher education system is the for-profit colleges, which specifically target minority and low-income students. They spend a ton of money recruiting students but very little training them or getting jobs. As much as 90% of their revenue comes from federal student loans.

      The people targeted by these colleges can’t pay back their loans because they don’t have a marketable education. Some will never fully repay their student loans. I’d argue that the blue-collar worker should be far angrier at the government that allowed these for-profits to dupe students, and the people getting wealthy on federal loans.

      Ultimately, this is part of a much larger problem.

      Borrowers with student loans have a harder time buying a house, and making many other purchases that drive our economy. The crippling debt affects not just the borrower, but everyone. The longer we continue to ignore student loan issues, the worse things will get.


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