Think Millennials Took On the Most College Debt? Survey Says You’re Wrong
College debt seems to be in the news constantly these days, and with good reason. Student debt levels have exploded, creating a burden that was largely not felt by Baby Boomers and older generations. Millennials get a lot of coverage saying they are financially irresponsible and carry large amounts of debt, but are they really the ones driving debt in America?
To get a clear picture of the state of student debt in the nation, GOBankingRates commissioned a survey on student debt levels and other debts. Perhaps one of the most surprising findings was that Generation X, not Millennials, seems to have both the highest percentage of individuals in debt and the highest total amount of debt.
Digging deeper into the data, it’s clear that there are societal changes that may be contributing to the amounts of student debt incurred by each generation. For example, while Baby Boomers had the lowest amount of student debt, they also had twice as many respondents who didn’t even go to college, thereby contributing to the deep divide.
Here’s a look at some of the highlighted findings of the GOBankingRates survey.
To get a better handle on the difference between generations, here are the delineations for the purposes of this survey:
- Generation Z: born 1997 and after, 11.73% of survey respondents
- Millennial: born 1981-96, 39.07% of survey respondents
- Gen X: born 1965-80, 31.41% of survey respondents
- Baby Boomers: born 1946-64, 16% of survey respondents
Amount of Debt by Generation
Just 18.64% of Baby Boomers took on $10,000 or more of debt, far below levels of Generation Z, Millennials and Generation X, at 33.05%, 38.43% and 43.67%, respectively. However, just 23.1% of Gen X took on zero student debt, compared with 41.61% of Baby Boomers reporting they came out of college debt-free, nearly double the amount of younger generations.
Gender Differences Regarding Debt
Men took on more student debt at every level except the $1 to $999 bracket. Overall, 54.6% of women took on some type of student debt, vs. 63.65% of men. However, fewer women reported going to college, with 14.06% of women responding that they didn’t go to college vs. just 10.31% of men. In all, 28.68% of men reported taking on at least $20,000 of student debt, vs. 24.19% of women.
What’s Driving Gen X’s College Debt Level?
While GOBankingRate’s survey didn’t ask respondents to explain the reasons behind their debt, there are a few explanations. The oldest side of Generation X hit the job market during the recession of the early 90s, while the younger GenX-ers faced the chilling effects of the dot-com bubble. This led to some GenX-ers deferring payments or making only minimum payments as well as returning to school for advanced degrees in greater numbers than Baby Boomers. Additionally, we have hit the age where Generation X have college-aged children of their own and are taking on student loan debt for their children, according to the CFPB. When you add all these factors up, it gives a few clues as to why Generation X is loaded with the most debt of all, a fact backed up by credit agency Experian in a recent report.
As with any statistics and surveys, a number of factors can contribute to the final results. However, it seems clear from the responses from this GOBankingRates survey that student debt has become a problem for recent generations, and it is a sizable one.
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