Women are more likely than men to take on student debt to attend college and hold nearly two-thirds of the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans in the United States, a report released Tuesday by the American Association of University Women indicates.
The organization analyzed data from 2008, 2012 and 2016 and found that, on average, women took out more in student loans for each of those to obtain both bachelor's degrees and post-graduate degrees.
For the three years, women took out $18,214, $21,953 and $21,619, compared to men, who took out $15,756, $20,427 and $18,880. For post-graduate degrees, women took out $7,928, $9,805 and $10,539 and men took out $5,959, $7,834 and $7,567.
Of the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt in the United States, women owe $900 billion and men owe $477 billion. Meanwhile, women earn 57 percent of bachelor's degrees but women with college degrees make 26 percent less than male peers.
"Women face a catch-22: go to college and take on student loan debt but get a higher paying job or, alternatively, forgo college and avoid the debt, but be locked out of higher-wage careers. We need to do better," said Kevin Miller, senior researcher for AAUW.
For black women, the disparity is worse. They take on more student debt and were more likely to struggle financially after completing college than any other demographic.
AAUW, which is a non-profit organization that seeks gender equality through education and research, called on lawmakers to expand Pell Grants for low-income students and offer more resources to non-traditional students. The advocacy group also supports the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Pay Equality for All Act, which seek equal pay regardless of gender or race.
"This isn't just a student problem, it's a gender inequity problem and it impacts us all," said Anne Hedgepeth, senior government relations manager at AAUW. "As a nation, we rely on women to add to and strengthen our economy. That can't happen under mountains of student debt."
To combat the growing mountain of student debt in the United States, dozens of companies now offer student loan assistance to their workers.
An American Student Assistance survey in February 2017 found that 86 percent of people said they would commit to working for their current employer if the company helped pay off their student loans. Of the young people questioned for the survey, 16 percent said their employers offered no such assistance.
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