This piece was originally published at Glamour.
Graduation season is upon us, and it’s a time of celebration across the nation. But a new report revealed that seven out of 10 women will leave school this month not just with a diploma: Over 70 percent will also have to pack up student debt as well.
New data released this month by the American Association of University Women finds that women owe around $2,700 more than men do at graduation. Crunch the numbers, and arrive at this stunner of a statistic: Women hold two thirds of the $1.4 trillion in student loans in the United States. That’s $890 billion—still more than the GDP of Austria and Norway combined—and $400 billion more than men.
For at least the last decade, candidates for elected office have touted plans to make higher education more affordable, and progressive politicians have put forth bold policies to address the problem. But few have been explicit about its gender breakdown. Women bear a disproportionate brunt of the national student debt, and that has and continues to cost them billions in lost wealth and missed opportunities.
Of course, some of that burden stems from the fact that more women enroll in American universities than men do. At the undergraduate level, women account for 56 percent of all students. But even that number doesn’t explain the share of debt women owe. As AAUW senior vice president of public policy and research Deborah Vagins notes, just one factor can explain the the stark differential: the wage gap.
We’ve insisted for decades now that women pursue advanced education, the better to secure good salaries and more skilled work. And that’s great, Vagins adds. But after graduation and at the federal level, the nation hasn’t done enough to ensure that those women are compensated at the same rates as men. The wage gap kicks in as soon as women enter the job market, which means that, from the start, they have fewer resources to pay back loans..