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More women say they can't afford kids because of their student loans

CNBC logo CNBC 5/22/2018 Jessica Dickler

Because of her student loans, Michelle Fernie-Oley, 33, has put off children — for now.

Fernie-Oley and her husband, John, 34, have been married for two years and live in New York City.

She is a wedding planner and owns her own business. He is a stage hand. Together they make more than six figures but Fernie-Oley is also paying back a loan tab that's just under $80,000.

"We discuss kids constantly," she said, but "I can't imagine having a child when I have to pay over $600 per month just to my student loans."

"It's crippling," she said.

Michelle Fernie-Oley and her husband, John's first dance as husband and wife. © Provided by CNBC Michelle Fernie-Oley and her husband, John's first dance as husband and wife.

Student debt in America has skyrocketed in recent years and now stands at a record $1.5 trillion. It is a burden that is not shared equally.

Largely because women outnumber men in college these days and are more likely to pursue a graduate degree, they are the ones who end up with the bigger loan balances.

In fact, 42 percent of women have more than $30,000 in college debt, compared with 27 percent of men. Women also are two times more likely than men to think it will take more than 20 years to pay off their loans, according to market research firm ORC International.

Women also earn less over their lifetimes.

While there are many factors that contribute to a decision to postpone children, including changing attitudes about age and motherhood, access to birth control and increased opportunities in the workforce, student loans are increasingly to blame.

In a recent report by Future Family, a Los Angeles-based startup that helps women understand fertility, of the 44 percent of women surveyed who have student debt, exactly half said it impacts their decision to have children. Future Family polled nearly 1,000 women in the U.S. without children between the ages of 25 and 40 in March of this year.

"We find that concerns about finances — and student debt specifically — are factoring in more," said Claire Tomkins, Future Family's CEO. "It ends up being a financial equation that's a little untenable."

For millennial women, like Fernie-Oley, that equation may very well shape the rest of their lives.

Data shows millennials are getting married later: The median marrying age is now 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960, according to the Pew Research Center.

They are having children later: For the first time ever, women in their 30s are having more children than those in their 20s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And they are having fewer children altogether: Women are having an average of 1.8 kids today, down from 3.7 in 1960, according to the Census Bureau.


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