Student Loan Debt Is a Gender Issue

From January to August 2021, USOW led a campaign to create a national conversation about the disproportionate impact student loan debt has on women and gender expansive people’s lives. The Student Loan Debt is a Gender Issue campaign mobilized thousands of people across the country to support borrowers, particularly Black women and gender expansive borrowers.

Illustration of a woman in casual clothes holding two large black bags that read "2/3 of student loan debt is held by women."

All illustrations are by Sam Vassallo

  • Over 3,000 supporters signed our petition urging the Biden administration to cancel $50,000 of federal student debt.
  • Over 100 supporters attended our national call-in day to make direct calls to the White House.

The Facts


Nearly two-thirds of all student loan debt is held by women. (AAUW: Deeper in Debt)



Women with a bachelor’s degree who work full time make 26% less than their male counterparts on average. Because of this, it takes women two years longer than men to pay back loans, on average. (AAUW Fast Facts: The Gender Pay Gap)



Black women hold the highest amount of student loan debt of any racial or gender group. AAUW reports that one year after graduation, Black women owe $10K more than other women borrowers.


of women

One-third of women say that more than one-fourth of their monthly income goes toward student loan debt payments. (Student Debt Crisis Survey).


Over their lifetime

TW: Student survivors of sexual assault drop out of school at a rate of 34% (Violence Victimization on a College Campus). For survivors, the economic cost of rape is around $120K over their lifetime on top of student loan debt. (The Journalist’s Resource)


of trans adults

Student loan debt is a gender issue that significantly impacts trans people, with over half (51.0%) of transgender adults carrying federal student loans (Federal Student Loan Debt Among LGBTQ People).

The Stories

Conversations around student loan debt often carry stigma, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Women across the nation bravely shared their student loan debt stories with USOW.

These stories highlight structural barriers that make it difficult for women, especially women of color, to pay off their student loans. Borrowers need to know they are not alone. Each story helps build solidarity and reduce stigma.

Karla’s Story

“My student loan payments are more than a quarter of my monthly income. I can’t leave Hawaii to live in a more affordable area because I help care for my parents.

Bills go unpaid and sometimes I miss my student loan payments because I prioritize my kids. I shouldn’t have to leave my ancestral lands and my family just to afford to pay my loans.”

Pronouns: she/her
Gender: Female
Race: Native Hawaiian

Tony’s Story

“I was a single parent when I went back to school and a year into my studies I found out my son had developmental apraxia of speech. Initially, I took out small loans to pay for school but as my son got older I had to take out larger amounts to pay the co-pays for his therapy. When my son went to college, his step-father took out Parent Plus loans so he would not wind up with the same debilitating debt I have. I’ve cried so many tears and have gotten physically ill as I struggle with this tremendous burden. Even if I make the monthly payments, the amount does not go down because of the interest. I will die with this debt. I am only thankful that it cannot be passed down to my child. The system is broken.” 

Pronouns: she/her
Gender: Female
Race: Native White

Keshia’s Story

I am 35 years old with nearly $250,000 in student loan debt. As a Black woman and first generation student, I felt like I was not being taken seriously, so I decided to get my Doctor of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership to help build my respectability. Historically marginalized students shouldn’t have to go into so much debt. All I want to do is live my life and not have to struggle as much as my parents did.”

Pronouns: she/her
Gender: Female
Race: Black

Take Action

The fight for student debt reform does not end here. Make sure to support these incredible organizations leading the movement to #CancelStudentDebt: 

Student Debt Crisis Center
1000 Women Strong
American Association of University Women
Alliance for Youth Action

Additional Resources

AAUW’s Deeper in Debt: Women & Student Loans Report 

  • A broad overview of how student debt became a women’s issue.

Student Debt Crisis Center’s Student Loan Debt Help Clinic 

  • A video covering student loan basics, affordable repayment plans, loan forgiveness options, and what to do if you cannot afford your payments. 


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