You Just Might Be Setting Her Up for a Lifetime of Debt. How to Stop Before It’s Too Late.

You Just Might Be Setting Her Up for a Lifetime of Debt. How to Stop Before It’s Too Late.

photo of girl holding piggy bank to illustrate the student debt gender gap

You might tell your daughter that if she works hard in school and does well, she can go on to an amazing college after graduation. But unless you’re financially preparing as a family now, a future like this might not be so realistic—at least not without your daughter embarking on what could be decades of student debt.

Many parents hope that because their daughters are hard workers, dedicated volunteers, or talented athletes, they’ll get scholarships to help pay for their education. And although that might be the case for some, did you know that girls get short changed when it comes to scholarships? It’s true. A survey conducted by the Student Loan Report found that young men get roughly double the amount in scholarship money than their female peers. And as for those mythical “full-ride” all-expenses-paid scholarships? Fewer than one half of 1 percent of students—regardless of gender—earn those. Not exactly worth banking on, even if your daughter is among the best and brightest.

The truth is, there’s some pretty troubling data when it comes to college planning. Recent studies show parents of girls are 22 percent less likely to be saving for higher education than parents of boys. Of course, for some families it’s a struggle just to get food on the table, but data shows that even families that could be setting aside money often aren’t.

How could a generation of moms and dads so committed to girls reaching their full potential not be prioritizing something we know can truly give them a leg up in life?

In search of answers, we decided to do a bit of an experiment and Googled the phrases “save for son’s education,” “save for daughter’s education,” and “save for daughter’s wedding” to gauge public interest on each topic. The findings were astounding. Specifically? There’s more than 13 times the information out there about saving for a boy’s education than about saving for a girl’s. Here’s the breakdown:

  •          “Save for son’s education” generated 118 million results
  •          “Save for daugher’s education” pulled up 8.6 million results
  •          “Save for daughter’s wedding” garnered 39 million results

“You don’t even have to do the math to see these numbers are disturbing,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “but the fact that there’s more than four times the information on saving for a DJ or flowers for your daughter’s wedding than there is on helping her pay for an academic degree cannot be ignored. These 1950s priorities are so ingrained in our society that many parents don’t even realize they’re acting on them—or that they’re putting their own girls at a real disadvantage.”

The hard truth is that our culture generally doesn’t take investing in girls’ education seriously—and that overarching view trickles down to affect what kinds of money is available for girls to get in the form of scholarships and how we budget within our own families.

Two-thirds of student debt in the United States is held by women.

Given these trends, it’s not surprising that girls are significantly more likely to go into student debt than boys. In fact, in an average year, female undergrads take on more than 12 percent more student debt than their male peers. After graduation, the gender pay gap makes it harder for young women to pay off their debt, which often leads to extended repayment plans, additional fees and interest, and years of financial struggle. Women own two-thirds of the United States’ current student debt. The issue is huge, and it’s not working in your daughter’s favor.

The good news? You can still do something about it.

“Everyone’s budget is going to be different,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald, “but if your family can put aside even a small amount of money each month to help pay for her education, it could make a huge difference on her financial future.” From traditional savings accounts to special savings programs (like 529 plans through which the money you invest grows over the years), there are several options out there to fit families’ different needs.

And having conversations from an early age about financing college—not just about getting in—is important too. Some might rather take the “let’s see where she gets accepted, then deal with finances” approach, but leaving her out of the conversation about college savings can be both disempowering and leave her in the lurch when it comes to big decisions for her future.

“If your daughter understands the very real fact that getting a degree will be expensive but incredibly valuable to her future, perhaps she can start asking extended family to donate to her college fund in lieu of birthday or holiday gifts each year,” suggests Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “Similarly, she might consider getting a part-time job in high school and setting aside part of her earnings to help cover tuition.”

Investing the time to have these conversations about paying for college will also help reinforce the fact that her mind and dreams are important to you—and that they should be valued. In a world where beauty and romance are all too often held up as the be-all-end-all for girls, you cannot underscore the worth of her brain and future potential enough.

The bottom line? It’s never too early to start thinking about, talking about, and saving for your girl’s education. It’s almost definitely going to be expensive no matter how you shake it, but the earlier you start discussing the future—and putting money aside, if your budget allows—the easier and less intimidating the situation will be in the long run.