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Women in Debt Less Likely to Marry

Women with large student loan balances are less likely to marry than their girlfriends who’ve graduated debt-free, new research shows.

Men, in contrast, are immune to this impact.  Their marriage prospects are the same regardless of how much they owe for their education, according to Fenaba Addo, who studied the effect of college and credit card debt in the “marriage market.”

As U.S. college debt outstanding has surpassed the $1 trillion mark, the fallout is widening.  Recent graduates complain that paying off their student loans affects their ability to take critical steps to improve their future finances, such as buying a house or saving for retirement.  But there are psychological effects too: young adults who carry a lot of debt, for example, are more stressed, even depressed.

It was only a matter of time before student loans started messing with their love lives.

Addo, now a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Population Health Sciences, became interested in the topic as she watched her girlfriends taking on “crazy amounts of debt” to finish college or complete graduate degrees.

Her analysis has also determined that women and men are both more likely to move in with their significant other if they have debt than if they do not.  Since being single is expensive, she said, “cohabitation provides a less expensive option” for couples who can split the rent, groceries and utilities.

But the impact on marriage prospects was confined to women in her data set, who were in their late 20s: the probability of marrying falls 4.9 percent for each 1-percentage-point increase in a woman’s dollar value of student loan and credit card debt.  And student loan debt is rising at a steady clip every year: 2012 graduates had nearly $29,000 in college loans on average, according to Mark Kantrowitz, who publishes Fastweb.com and tracks debt data for FinAid.org.  But loan balances for some graduates can approach $100,000.

Addo suggested various reasons why women in debt “are negatively impacted in the marriage market.”  This finding held true when she controlled for education, despite the fact that a college education has been shown to make a woman more likely to marry.

One reason, “unfortunately,” Addo said, is that men often initiate marriage, which means that they can be selective about choosing women who’ve minimized their borrowing.  But the marriage culture has also changed dramatically.  Some women may be actively “removing themselves from the marriage market, or delaying marriage … until they can make a better-quality match,” she said.

Addo poses the question at the heart of her research findings:  “Do women believe that education loans are a negative marker for their marital prospects, or [are men who] view high education loans as a negative … not marrying women with outstanding loans?”

Readers, what do you think?

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