Indebted (to) Women

Student debt may be the first link of economic inequality between men and women. How young does this financial discrimination begin?

Her parents paid for her brother’s college education but she had to take out a student loan. Once she graduated, she was paid 54 to 80 cents for every dollar her male coworkers were paid. When she got married, she let her husband take charge of paying the bills every month. This is the profile of an American woman who ends up in financial crisis because she did everything society taught her to do.

Student loans are just the beginning of a lifetime of financial struggle for some of America’s well educated, hard-working women. “We’re never really going to be able to get paid what we’re worth for our education or skill level until we change the whole framework,” said Chirlane McCray, the first lady of New York City, at the 2018 Women in the World Summit.

As it turns out, parents are just as guilty of gender discrimination as employers. Parents of all boys are more likely to cover the cost of college than parents of all girls, according to a study conducted by T. Rowe Price Investment Management. In fact, 17 percent of parents were likely to pay for their son’s education in full compared to only eight percent of parents who were likely to pay for their daughter’s education, according to the study conducted in 2017.

When young women are forced to take out student loans in order to finance their own education, the statistics remain grim. Despite the fact that women make up 56 percent of college enrollment, they hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the U.S., according to the American Association of University Women. This is as true for a woman pursuing an associate degree as it is for a woman pursuing a doctoral degree.

For-profit colleges are more likely to advertise to women, people of color and low-income students, according to AAUW. They are also more likely to enroll single mothers, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The trouble with this is for-profit college tuition can cost more than twice as much as tuition for public colleges, according to a Student Loan Hero survey.

Once they graduate, on average, women take longer to pay off their student debt than their male counterparts. Black or African American and Hispanic or Latina women face even more difficulty repaying student loans than white and Asian women. This is, at least in part, due to the gender wage gap.

When the equal pay act was enacted in 1963, women made 58 cents for every dollar a man made. Today, women are being paid an increase of less than a half a cent per year since then, according to Cynthia McFadden of NBC News.

Our nation’s financial prioritization has lasting emotional effects on women. “We spend our lives divided between feeling that we’re inadequate at work, feeling that we’re inadequate at home, having imposter syndrome all the time and not actually understanding our value,” said BBC Journalist Carrie Gracie who publicly fought BBC News for equal pay.

The fact that women are undervalued doesn’t stop them from carrying the financial burden of providing for their families. Women are primary or sole earners in 40 percent of households around the nation, according to McCray. But even women still hold on to outdated ideas of gender and money.

“There’s something very odd about what’s going on with feminism today,” said Gillian Tett of The Financial Times. “In lots of areas of our lives, women have been getting more powerful and making real strides in terms of how they take control of the workplace, the wider public sphere, and their own homes. But when it comes to money, there’s something of a big lag.”

Almost 60 percent of women relinquish their finances to their husbands and millennial women are abdicating more than any other generation, according to a study conducted by UBS Global Wealth Management. Reasons for this vary between societal pressure and women’s lack of financial confidence.

Carmen Rita Wong, CEO and Founder of Malecon Productions, a multimedia content company, says that women’s emotions, psychology and motivation has to catch up with the fact that they have access to all the same tools and all the same information as men.

Student debt, the gender wage gap and financial abdication are all woven together. It is imperative that they be assessed and handled as one gender issue as well as separate issues. They all have the realistic potential of affecting one woman over the course of her lifetime so to approach them strictly as separate issues can have dangerous implications.

Money management as it relates to our society’s gender roles begins much younger than we’d like to admit. Young women need to empower themselves to understand the financial aspects of their lives before they even apply for college. It is vital that women learn how to take care of their own finances and advocate for their own financial position in their personal and professional lives. Some young women may need to advocate financing their education to parents who favor their brothers. If this is the case, it can serve as good practice for their future in the workforce.

“Money and how you manage your money changes your life completely,” said Wong. “It’s one of the biggest powers you have. Money affects every single point of your life. You have to take control of it. You have to pay attention. Your lives depend on it.”