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When Does My Future Begin? Student Debt and Intragenerational Mobility

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DOI: 10.4236/sm.2018.82015    270 Downloads   663 Views Citations


Higher education financing policy largely assumes that college graduates enjoy equal opportunities for economic mobility regardless of how they finance their degrees. To examine this contention, this study uses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 to compare the time it takes to move up the economic ladder for young adult college graduates who acquired student debt and those who did not. Findings reveal that those who acquired student debt take longer to reach the midpoint of the net worth distribution than those who did not acquire student debt. In fact, even after controlling for key demographic differences, acquiring $10,000 in student loans—only one-third of the average student debt load—is associated with an 18% decrease in the rate of achieving median net worth. Additionally, student debt may be associated with a slower rate of reaching median income; here, an additional $10,000 in student loans is associated with a 9% decrease in the rate of achieving median income, although graphical evidence suggests these differences do not emerge until about age 35. These findings reveal inequities in current education financing policy.

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Elliott, W. and Rauscher, E. (2018) When Does My Future Begin? Student Debt and Intragenerational Mobility. Sociology Mind, 8, 175-201. doi: 10.4236/sm.2018.82015.

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