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Women have $890 billion in student loan debt, the country's biggest share

  • Women shoulder around $890 billion in student loans — the vast majority of the outstanding balance in the U.S.
  • And once they have those degrees, they earn less than men, too.
  • That means they take longer to repay their debt.
Valentinrussanov | Getty Images

Women are carrying nearly two-thirds of the country's outstanding student loan debt.

That alarming math comes out of a new report by the American Association of University Women, an education advocacy group, titled, "Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans."

To be sure, 56 percent of today's college students are women, and so it makes sense that more women than men hold education debt.

And student loans are increasingly a burden for anyone in pursuit of an education. Since 1976, the cost of college attendance has ballooned 150 percent, while the median household income went up 20 percent, according to the American Association of University Women.

Now, 7 in 10 students take out loans to get their degree. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, while nearly 20 percent owe more than $100,000. Americans are now more burdened by education loans than they are by credit card or auto debt.

"Never before have so many owed so much.  And the implications of this situation are enormous. " -American Association of University Women

Conversations on student loans need to start with the recognition that certain demographics are hit harder than others, said Kim Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women.

"Even when you compare apples to apples, women are taking on more debt individually," she said.

In 2016, the average woman left her undergraduate education owing $21,619, compared with $18,880 for men. That's a difference of more than $2,700.

Black women, in particular, are taking on a disproportionate amount of debt, racking up around $25,000 in student loans to receive their bachelor's degree, the study found.

"Never before have so many owed so much," the report reads. "And the implications of this situation are enormous."

People borrow more, of course, when they have less money to put toward their education.

In addition, women are more likely than men to have family responsibilities to balance along with their coursework, Churches said, and therefore may take longer to graduate. More time in school can result in the need for more loans.

Wage gap

The fact that more women are borrowing in greater amounts is especially troubling when you consider that they also earn 27 percent less than their male counterparts outside of school.

That means that women will take longer than men to repay their student loans, and therefore rack up more interest, falling deeper into the hole.

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While men pay off 13 percent of their debt a year, women are able to chip in just 10 percent, the study found. Three years after graduating, women have paid off less than a third of their debt, while men have wiped away around 40 percent of it.

These numbers reveal an irony at play in our education system, Churches said.

"Education can be the great equalizer in our society, but if the rising tuition is impacting certain people more than others, it's now disenfranchising them," she said.