Study: LGBTQ Adults Disproportionately Burdened By Student Loan Debt

Gaduates look at the screen during a commencement for Medgar Evers College in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
LGBTQ students have more student loan debt than non-LGBTQ folks, a new study finds.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A new study from UCLA’s William’s Institute reveals that LGBTQ students are disproportionately affected by student loan debt when compared to non-LGBTQ adults.

The Williams Institute, which compiled data from an Access to Higher Education Project survey of more than 1,000 LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ adults between January and February of this year, found that approximately two million LGBTQ adults ages 18 to 40 have a whopping $93 billion in federal student loans. The latest findings build on years of prior research, which has suggested that a lack of family support and anti-LGBTQ discrimination while in school and the workplace, among other factors, cause LGBTQ students to pile on more debt than their straight peers.

“LGBTQ students face barriers in paying for their education at every level of the process, at times even before they enroll,” the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research (CLEAR) wrote in a report last year. “Homophobic families may not financially support their students, leading LGBTQ students to turn to loans and greater self-reliance to finance their schooling.”

CLEAR added, “But even once enrolled, LGBTQ students also face harassment in the process of getting loans, during their studies on campus, and entering into the job market after graduation.”

In the report, the data shows that out of the 2.9 million LGBTQ individuals with federal student loans, approximately 84 percent owe less than $50,000, and 16.3 percent owe $50,000 or more in federal student loans. Student loan debt hits all LGBTQ adults regardless of their age, according to the report, which noted that 35.4 percent of LGBTQ adults have federal student loan debt when compared to 23.2 percent of cisgender and heterosexual adults. The findings show even starker disparities based on gender identity. An estimated 51 percent of trans adults have federal student loans, which is 15 percentage points higher than LBQ cisgender women and 23 percentage points greater than GBQ cisgender men.

Researchers at CLEAR stressed that anti-LGBTQ job discrimination contributes to this economic burden.

“LGBTQ borrowers have a harder time paying off their debt, in no small part, because of discrimination in employment,” CLEAR wrote in a brief. “The fewer chances LGBTQ people have to earn money or attain high paying jobs, the less likely they will pay off their loans.”

According to the report, nearly half of LGBTQ adults have acquired federal student loans from a bachelor’s degree program, while 17 percent took on debt from community college or trade school. Previous data from the Williams Institute show that 21 percent of LGBTQ individuals in New York have obtained a bachelor’s degree, and 18 percent have earned a master’s degree when compared to 19 percent of non-LGBTQ folks with master’s degrees, respectively.

The brief further notes racial differences, revealing that white LGBTQ folks hold 37 percent of federal student loan debt, which is slightly higher than LGBTQ people of color. Overall, the groups still hold more debt than 24 percent of non-LGBTQ people of color and 22 percent of white non-LGBTQ folks. Despite a large sample size, one of the drawbacks of the report is that researchers did not clearly indicate the different education rates between non-LGBTQ and LGBTQ people.

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