Women accumulate larger student debt

When Kristine Leighton graduated from a private college five years ago with a degree in hospitality, she owed $75,000 on student loans.

Each month, she paid the minimum amount of $450 and lived at home with her parents on Long Island, N.Y.

NPR reports that “At first, she was working at a hotel for $10 an hour; money was tight. Even after she got a job in Manhattan making $75,000 a year, she still couldn’t afford to move out. She funneled her earnings into car

payments, credit card bills and debt, and a monthly commuter train pass. The loan payments left little extra


money for things like an emergency fund.At one point she upped her monthly student loan payments to around $1,800 for almost a year, in an effort to chip away at her debt as much as she possibly could. To prepare for the future.”I was trying,” Leighton says.

“I had this great job, this great career, but I still couldn’t afford to move out of my parents’ house.

“Women have made gains in the workplace but there’s still a wage gap. Although attending college costs the same for both genders, women are more burdened by student loan debt after graduating. They spend a higher proportion of their salaries on paying off debt because, well, they have lower salaries to work with than men — from the very start.After college, with $75,000 in student debt, Kristine Leighton struggled to pay it off and start her adult life. “I was trying,” she says. “But I still couldn’t afford to move out of my parents’ house.”

“A study by the American Association of University Women found that one year after college, nearly half of women working full time, and 39 percent of men, were devoting more than 8 percent of their income toward their debt. That may seem small, but when you are fresh out of college, the combination of living expenses, credit card bills or debt, a 401(k) and a little left over for savings — if you can hack it — adds up.It does so more quickly for women. College-educated women made 82 percent of men’s salaries one year after graduating in 2009, according to the AAUW study.”For many young women, the challenge of paying back student loans is their first encounter with the pay gap,” the study says.It might seem like the wage gap would be minimal at that point, since graduates of both genders are typically young, single, childless and relatively inexperienced in the workplace. Not so.Women make less than men — even upon first entering the workforce — for a number of reasons. They’re discriminated against. They don’t negotiate. Or they do and are penalized. They also tend to choose fields that pay less, such as social sciences and teaching, instead of engineering and computer science. But after the AAUW controlled for factors such as college major, occupation and average hours worked, the wage gap was still there.The good news is that with each successive generation, that wage gap gets a little bit smaller. Today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near-equal pay with men, according to a recent Pew study of Census data. Thirty years ago, median hourly wages for women were 77 percent of men’s; now they’re around 93 percent. That’s progress.Here’s the bad news. The Pew study suggests that this smaller gap can’t quite hold. That as today’s young working women grow into their careers, this near-parity will slip.”That gap expands,” says Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center. “It is the smallest the first year out of college.”Not surprisingly, the reasons include marriage, babies and discrimination in the workplace because of marriage and babies.”You have this same burden of student debt that is affecting men and women,” Graves says. “But because women are making less, it means a larger percentage of their income is going [to paying off debt].”


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