The pandemic is making it even harder for mothers to repay their student loans

The combination of the pre-pandemic wage gap, disproportionate job losses in 2020 and insufficient paid leave policies are setting women up for financial disaster. Here's what you need to know.

The pandemic is making it even harder for mothers to repay their student loans
Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

Motherhood is an amazing (if labor-intensive) job, but it sure doesn't pay well. In fact, the unpaid work of motherhood can cost you at your paying job—which is a big problem if you've got student loans to pay back.

The latest U.S. Census data reveals that America's gender wage gap (which is largely a motherhood gap) is growing, and the pandemic is making it worse: Experts worry the economic fallout from COVID-19 could set women back by a decade. An analysis from Pew's Stateline reveals mothers with kids 12 years old and younger lost nearly 2.2 million jobs between February and August.


This is deeply concerning because mothers are more likely than fathers to hold student loan debt and the combination of the pre-pandemic wage gap, disproportionate job losses in 2020 and insufficient paid leave policies are setting women up for financial disaster. Right now millions of mothers are worrying about how they make their student loan payments when the odds are stacked against them, and lawmakers need to be worried, too.

The average student loan repayment is nearly $400 a month according to, but motherhood can make paying that back feel impossible. And it means moms pay more interest and pay loans for longer than fathers do.

Not only are mothers more likely than fathers to have lost work during the pandemic (three times more likely, according to Pew) but they're also much more likely to take parental leave after a birth or adoption. If they're lucky enough to get maternity leave at all (which is very much not a guarantee in the U.S.), most are still expected to keep making their monthly student loan payment.

There's no pause to account for the fact that the vast majority of women have no money coming in—and interest just keeps on accruing.

As moms recover from the physical ordeal of childbirth and care for their infant, they also have to worry about scraping together the money to make their payment.

Anna Helhoski, a student loans expert at, says when women with student loans go on to become mothers, they face what she calls a double burden. "Women already take longer to repay their student loan debt compared with men because they're typically paid less," she says. "Tack on taking time out from the workforce to take care of children and it can be an even bigger challenge for moms."

Luckily, however, there may be things you can do to make the financial logistics a little easier.

"You can talk to your federal student loan servicer about entering into an income-driven repayment plan. It won't help you pay off your debt faster, but it will lower the amount you have to pay each month to be commensurate with income. If you're not working for a short period of time—during maternity leave, for example—your payment would be zero," Helhoski explains. "Moms with private student debt should contact their lender to find out what type of temporary payment reduction or payment pause is available."

That, of course, is just a stop-gap measure. The much larger problem is that getting a college education still leaves millions of Americans saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Maggie Germano, a financial coach for women, says student loans can be so onerous that they force some women to put off motherhood.

"This debt burden can prevent people, but especially women, from achieving their other goals, like buying a home, starting a family, or just generally flourishing in life." Germano says the country needs a policy solution. "I would love to see student loan debt canceled," she explains. "We've reached an impasse where the cost of college is sky-high and people hold more student debt than ever before… We need to recreate the system and make college more affordable."

Germano also says we need more transparency around the student loan process.

An 18-year-old young woman hoping to go to college likely isn't thinking about how her student loans might someday impact her family-planning choices, or her child-care options. And she shouldn't have to think about that.

"It's incredibly important for people to understand what they are actually agreeing to when they sign up for student loans when they start college," Germano says. "Many people have no idea how long this debt burden will follow them when they sign up for it."

For women, it can add up to decades of financial struggles and its time for lawmakers to recognize the problem—and come up with a solution before this double burden sets working mother back decades.

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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    We have basic respect. Today, our marriages are built on the principle that partners are equal regardless of gender.

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