Actually, I’m kind of extrapolating my own analysis from the actual findings. Rachel Dwyer, lead author of a study recently published in the journal Social Science Research, has found that students maturing into adulthood feel empowered by their indebtedness to financial institutions and have higher self-esteems.
That’s right, they think having tens of thousands of dollars in education and credit card debt as empowering and not burdensome in the least.
Dwyer took data from 3,079 young adults who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979. The NLSY interviews the same nationally representative group of Americans every two years.
Let’s look at some statistics highlighted in the paper. The number of students enrolled in college grew 44% from 1977 to 2003, yet the volume of student loans grew a staggering 833%. That’s not even taking into account the soaring costs implemented in the past couple of years. Neither does the statistic that tution and fees increased by almost 50% between 1995 and 2005. I’m sure it’s much higher now.
As for the loans, the typical graduating senior left with more than $15,000 in federal loans in 2009 and the average 18-24 youth carries $4,000 in credit card debt. And that’s not taking into account the hundreds of thousands of dollars accrued by graduate students, especially those in law or medical school.
Despite having $20,000 worth of debt upon entering adulthood, young adults see it as an investment in their future, and a necessary one. Many low-to-middle class individuals don’t see any other options. It’s something they have to do. But it’s okay, because they feel empowered, like they can go out, conquer the world and pay off their debts.
Except they can’t.
Many struggle to find well-paying jobs – or any jobs at all – after graduation. And those that they do find are often stagnant with little promise of upward mobility. I myself know plenty of friends who went to college and aren’t using their degrees in the least. Which is fine, except that it’s a lot to pay for something you don’t use.
This is all reflected in the data. By the time young adults hit their late 20’s and early 30’s, their sense of empowerment has shifted to one of burden. Debt won’t go away when you can only afford to make minimum payments and never work on the actual principle balance, and the stress associated with difficult financial situations begins to take its toll.
Or perhaps they just finally wise up.
But I’m not one to talk; I’m probably one of them.