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Run The World But Mind The Gap: Women, Wages and Student Loans

By Emily Wazlak

There’s no doubt that women have come a long way in education.  In 1837, my alma matter, Mount Holyoke College, became the first institution for higher education open to women and required all 80 incoming students to bring a Bible, an atlas, a dictionary, and two spoons.  Today women are acquiring degrees in greater numbers than men, with or without quotas for silverware. Despite these great strides, gender continues to impact student loan debt and wage earning potential.


Women rely more heavily on student loans and will go deeper into debt while financing their education than their male counterparts.

  • Researchers at The Ohio State University think part of the reason men don’t take on as much debt is because they don’t need to finish their degrees to get paid like their degree holding peers – at least initially.  (However, this educational gap does catch up to men later in life, when compared to men with degrees).
  • In other words, men who drop out of college initially earn amounts similar to male college graduates, in part due to access to construction and manufacturing jobs.
  • Without as much access to similar jobs, women with degrees earn an average of $6,500 more a year than women without degrees. As a result, women take out more loans and at larger amounts to reach graduation.

The reliance many women have on student loans becomes more problematic when they graduate.

  • A study by the American Association of University Women shows that the gender wage gap post-graduation is nearly immediate, with men working full-time with a college degree making an average of  $42,918 their first year out of school, well over $7,000 more than their female peers, who earn an average of $35,296.
  • This pay gap makes it more difficult for women to pay off their student debt even when they find full-time employment.

Girls may run the world but not without minding the gap.  The persistence of the gender wage gap and the greater reliance on student loans casts a dark shadow on the increase in the number of women earning degrees and pursuing higher education.  The solution to these issues is not based in singular policy changes or more Beyoncé anthems, though the both may be welcomed and encouraged. Instead, these inequities require broader systematic changes.

At YI, we want to start by highlighting the stories of young women impacted by the gap. This year we plan to launch the Young Women’s Struggles, Young Women’s Voices: California College Affordability Campaign. This campaign will help young women throughout the California become student leaders advocating for affordable, accessible higher education.

Email if you want to get more involved with our California campaign!