August 25th, 2014
Student Loan Debt Negatively Affects Quality of Life
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According to a recent Gallup poll, students with $50,000 or more in student debt fall short of those with no debt in three key areas of well-being: financial security, physical health and sense of purpose. The study surveyed more than 11,000 people who graduated from college between 1990 and 2014 to ask whether they felt they had purpose to their lives, supportive relationships, financial security, a sense of community and physical health.
Graduates with no debt were 15 percentage points better in financial security, 10 points better in physical health and 9 points better in sense of purpose than graduates with more than $50,000 in debt.
The Ripple Effect of Debt
Even more than 20 years after graduation, those with student loans are still experiencing the negative effects of debt. For many, the debt has left a lingering impact in most areas of their lives.
Graduating with debt may have meant taking a job that paid more instead of a job they were interested in, which could lead to less motivation and sense of purpose. The years spent paying off debt may also have left them with very little savings, which can lead to a sense of financial insecurity. Studies have shown that debt can lead to a delay in home ownership and marriage, which could explain their lower satisfaction with community and social relationships. It has also been shown that debt can lead to stress and poor physical health, including higher blood pressure.
Limitations of This Poll
Susan Dynarski, a professor and columnist for The New York Times, points out that we shouldn’t forget that those with student debt have something valuable – a college education, which has been linked to benefits such as a higher salary.
Earlier this year, a Pew Research study compared millennials with a college degree against those without a college degree. In addition to earning more, college-educated millennials are more likely to be employed full-time. Among the 25- to 32-year-old millennials with at least a bachelor’s degree who were surveyed, 9 in 10 said that college has already paid off or will pay off in the future. Among those who borrowed money to pay for their college education, 9 in 10 said their degree was worth it or expect it will be in the future.
Dynarski also says we should consider the benefits of student loans. The availability of student loans means more people can get a college education. Without loans, some people may not have been able to get a degree. So instead of comparing college graduates with debt versus those with no debt, according to Dynarski’s line of thinking, perhaps we should be comparing people who have debt and a college degree versus people with no debt and no college degree.
What Can We Conclude?
It may be an oversimplification to say that student debt causes poor well-being, as there are many factors to consider that the poll does not capture. However, the poll does attempt to look beyond finances when it comes to measuring the value of a college education, illuminating how taking out student loans affects the more intangible aspects of quality of life. Ultimately, the poll further illustrates that debt is a great burden that can have lasting effects. For some, perhaps it’s worth it.
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Felicia Chen is a Communications Intern at Credit Karma. When she isn’t supporting the communications team, she can be found exploring and eating her way through the city, photographing her adventures and crossing things off her bucket list. Tweet her at @flcchn!
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