Student loan debt is an obstacle for many mothers-to-be

Michelle Fernie-Oley and her husband, John’s first dance as husband and wife.

Source: Mikkel Paige

Because of her student loans, Michelle Fernie-Oley has pushed the kids away — for now.

Fernie-Oley, 33, and her 34-year-old husband, John, have been married for two years and live in New York.

She is a wedding planner and owns her own business. He is a machinist. Together, they’re making over six figures, but Fernie-Oley is also paying off a loan of just under $80,000.

“We constantly talk about kids,” she said, but “I can’t imagine having a kid when I have to pay over $600 a month just for my student loans.”

“It’s crippling,” she said.

Student debt in the United States has skyrocketed in recent years and now stands at a record $1.5 trillion. It is a burden that is not shared equitably.

Largely because women outnumber men in college these days and are more likely to pursue higher education, they are the ones who end up with the largest loan balances.

In fact, 42% of women have more than $30,000 in college debt, compared to 27% of men. Women are also twice as likely as men to think it will take them more than 20 years to repay their loans, according to market research firm ORC International.

Women also earn less over their lifetime.

Although many factors contribute to the decision to postpone children, including changing attitudes about age and childbearing, access to birth control, and increased labor market opportunities, student loans are increasingly to blame.

In a March poll by Future Family, a start-up that helps women understand fertility, 44% of women said they had student debt. Half of these women said that the loans influence their decision to have children. Future Family surveyed nearly 1,000 women in the United States between the ages of 25 and 40 with no children.

“We’re seeing concerns about finances — and student debt in particular — being taken into account more,” said Claire Tomkins, CEO of Future Family. “It ends up being a bit of an untenable financial equation.”

For millennial women like Fernie-Oley, this equation could very well shape the rest of their lives.

Statistics show that millennials are marrying later: the median age of marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960, according to the Pew Research Center.

They have children later: For the first time ever, women in their 30s are having more children than those in their 20s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And they have fewer children: women have an average of 1.8 children today, compared to 3.7 in 1960, according to the Census Bureau.

Learn more about personal finance:
Why buying a house can be nearly impossible with massive student debt
For some, student loan debt doubles, triples, even quadruples
Colleges will cost a lot more in 2036

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