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Is Student Loan Debt Killing Marriage?

Topics: Data & Research
student loan debt

The average college student owes $37,172 in student loan debt, according to higher-education expert Mark Kantrowitz, the highest student debt load ever. Collectively, 44 million borrowers owe $1.5 trillion in student loans.

The student loan debt crisis does more than just burden newly minted graduates with high bills during a time when their earnings are the lowest. It can also delay markers of adulthood, like buying a house or even getting married.

“Borrowing for education means deferring other major purchases, like a home,” wrote Ephrat Livni at Quartz. “Indeed, a 2017 Federal Reserve study reported that greater student loan debt causes people to delay decisions about marriage and children.”

A recent study published in Springer’s Journal of Family and Economic Issues suggests that student loan debt is causing some young Americans to delay marriage.

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Student Loan Debt as a Barrier to Marriage

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin Madison compared data from two generations of young adults who had attended college and participated in 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY).

Per Science Daily:

The proportion of young adults who transitioned into a first marriage by the time they had reached the age of 34 declined considerably between 1979 and 1970. Almost 70 per cent of the NLSY79s were married by their mid-30s, either marrying directly or cohabiting before marriage.

In contrast, over half of the NLSY97 cohort was still unmarried at the same age. This was true for 55.35 per cent of women (compared to 27.68 per cent in NLSY79) and 50.87 per cent of men (compared to 31.64 percent of them in NLSY79).

The NLS97 cohort were more likely to take on student loan debt and carried a higher debt load. Higher student loan debt was associated with later first marriages in the latter group.

Lead author Fenaba Addo said that women in the NLS97 cohort were more likely to cohabitate before marriage, which might lead to fewer marriages and more births outside of marriage. (Separate research from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey showed a correlation between out-of-wedlock births and poverty.)

“Rising student debt is reshaping relationship formation among college-going youth, and as cohabitation has become more widespread, social and economic disparities in who marries without cohabiting first have increased,” said Addo in Science Daily.

Want to learn about potential return on investment for your college degree? Read PayScale’s College ROI Report.

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Have you delayed or changed life plans because of student loan debt? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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