Student loan debt harms mental health, careers and home ownership for many years, study says

'It seems to have a harmful effect on many aspects of graduates’ lives once they leave higher education'

Jane Dalton
Monday 11 June 2018 00:17 BST
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University of California students demonstrate against tuition fee hikes
University of California students demonstrate against tuition fee hikes

Having large student loan debts leads to lower job satisfaction, harms people’s physical and mental health and affects their lifelong finances, a study has found.

Such debts are more likely to make people delay buying a home and to mean that when they do take out a mortgage, they buy lower-value properties, the researchers say.

Owing large sums of money for university studies has a negative impact on the career decisions people make in their lives for years afterwards and even affects retirement plans, according to the report, based on the first survey of its kind globally.

In particular, big loan hangovers deterred former students from launching entrepreneurial ventures, the researchers said.

They also discovered that health, particularly mental health, appeared to be harmed by student loan debt, both during and after leaving university.

To reach their findings, experts from the Centre for Global Higher Education, who are based at the UCL Institute of Education and the University of Michigan, reviewed existing research on the subject mostly from the US but also from England over the past 20 years. A rise in the tuition fees cap affected the results in England.

“The academic literature unanimously finds that having student loan debt is linked negatively to home ownership, including owning lower-value properties. Student loan debt is likely to delay homeownership, too,” the authors said.

Such debt restricts career choices and leads to lower job satisfaction, although there was no consensus on whether it affects people’s earnings, the review found.

It also damages a person’s lifetime financial wellbeing, leading to lower levels of net worth, with people going through more financial distress, and with lower savings and retirement savings particularly those who did not complete their degree.

For women, such debt was more likely to mean putting off marriage and children, the study said.

Prof Claire Callender of the UCL Institute of Education and Birkbeck, one of the co-authors, said: “The number of students relying on student loans to pay for their higher education is constantly rising, as is the amount they borrow. Yet we know little about the long-term consequences of this for society and individuals.

“What we do know from current research is concerning. Student loan debt seems to have a harmful effect on many aspects of graduates’ lives once they leave higher education.”

The researchers found the decision to study at postgraduate level depends rather on students’ socio-economic backgrounds, the type of degree on offer and the university they attended as an undergraduate than debt.

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