Student Loan Debt Bad? It's Much Worse for Women

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Men who feel trapped by crushing student loan debt have one thing going for them: They're not women.

According to The Pew Research Center, about one out of five (19%) U.S. households owe student loan debt, with up to 40% of households headed by someone 35 or under owing some amount of student loans. But though the burden of loan debt affects a significant percentage of those under 35 regardless of demographic, it turns out that women are hurt more.

This is because though women and men pay the same amount for their college degrees, they do not reap the same benefits. A recent report by the American Association of University Women, Graduating to a Pay Gap, found that women are often paid substantially less than men upon graduation, putting a heavier burden of loan debt on women.

The study -- which analyzed Department of Education records of more than 15,000 recent baccalaureate graduates -- found that among bachelor degree recipients for 2007 and 2008, women earned an average of $35,296 at their first post-college jobs, as compared with men at $42,918. A pay gap of about 7% or more is evident even among women and men who majored in the same fields and entered the same professions. For instance, female teachers were found to have earned only 89% of what male teachers earned.

The report indicates that the difficulties women have in repaying student loan debt are dependent mainly on this pervasive pay gap and do not have to do with different levels of borrowing among men and women. In fact, the report found that women and men who borrow to finance their college educations usually do at similar amounts.

What the pay gap also signifies is that women are spending more of their salaries on loan repayment than men. Specifically, nearly half of women surveyed in 2009 -- that is, 47% -- were paying more than 8% of their earnings toward student loan debt as compared with 39% of men. This also not only leaves women with less disposable income on average than their male counterparts, but also less leftover funds to invest in savings and retirement plans.

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