A new poll from Gallup, released Thursday, details the long-term burden imposed on individuals who have taken out large student loans.
The burden is not merely financial, but touches at almost every aspect of human well-being, from the mental to the physical, even after loans are paid off.
Unsurprisingly, individuals who graduated with over $50,000 in student loans were significantly worse off financially. Forty percent of individuals with no student loans were classed as “thriving” financially, defined as being able to consistently manage one’s economic life with high security and low stress. Among those with over $50,000 in debt, only 25 percent were thriving financially, a 15 percent gap.
However, those with debt also failed to thrive in many other areas. In fact, the second largest well-being gap was in physical well-being. 34 percent of individuals with no debt said they had consistently good health and enough energy to get things done each day. In comparison, a scant 24 percent of those with over $50,000 in debt said the same, a ten percent gap. Those with the most debt were also nine percent less likely to thrive in terms of “purpose,” defined as enjoying one’s daily work and feeling motivated to achieve goals.
Not everything was noticeably worse. Those with high debt were only 2 percent less likely to feel they were thriving in their social lives, and just five percent less likely to like where they live and feel pride in their community.
Unsurprisingly, the well-being gap in every single category was larger for those who graduated in the year 2000 or later, reflecting the fact that such graduates were more likely to still be paying off loans. However, well-being gaps still existed for those who graduated over 15 years ago, showing that high debt can cast a long shadow with effects that go well beyond the merely economic.
The issue is of some importance, because the average volume of student loans for graduates is rising faster than inflation. Recently, student loan debt overtook credit card debt as the second-largest source of debt in the United States after home loans.
The poll was conducted from February 4 through March 7, 2014 and surveyed 29,560 people who held at least a bachelor’s degree and graduated between 1990 and 2014. The sampling error was plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.
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