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High Debt Impacts Physical Well-Being
Monday, August 11, 2014 6:35 AM

People who take out significant college loans score worse on quality-of-life measures, a trend that persists into middle age, according to a recent poll of college graduates.

Even 24 years after graduation, students who borrowed more than $25,000 are less likely to enjoy their work and are less financially and physically fit than their counterparts who graduated without debt. For more recent college grads, the discrepancy is even more pronounced.

Gallup Education, which conducted the poll in conjunction with Purdue University, collected the data in March from 30,000 college graduates of all ages in all 50 states. Respondents were asked a set of questions Gallup has used for 30 years to gauge how satisfied people are in different aspects of their lives.

The five categories in the questionnaire assess whether people feel that they have purpose to their lives, supportive relationships, financial security, a sense of community and physical well-being. Those who finished college between 2000 and 2014 with more than $50,000 in debt were significantly worse off in all five categories than those who graduated with no debt.

Recent grads who owed more than $50,000 were 9 percentage points more likely to report feeling their lives lacked purpose; 16 percentage points less likely to say they felt financially secure and 11 percentage points less likely to say they felt physically fit.

High debt can

  • Undermine people's sense of purpose
  • Prompt people to take jobs that pay more rather than ones they are really interested in
  • Deny people the flexibility to try something new
  • Postpone buying a home
  • Postpone getting married
  • Delay connecting to a community
  • Create stress that can hurt physical health
  • Delay saving for retirement
  • Generate anxiety

The amount of debt students are taking out to get through college has been climbing for years. About 70 percent of college graduates have debt. The average debt today is more than $33,000, up from $18,600 in 2004. Among those who took the poll, 11 took out more than $50,000 and an additional 21 percent borrowed between $25,000 and $50,000.


(Source: The Wall Street Journal)