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Parents of Sons Save More Aggressively for College Than Those With Daughters

When the earning gap goes beyond wages and into perception of our daughter's successes.

Whether or not they realize it, parents of only daughters may be harboring an unconscious bias. A new survey released by T. Rowe Price suggests that parents of sons save more money for college than parents who are raising only daughters. 

In the survey of more than 1,000 parents (238 of which had only boys and 155 of which were parents of only girls), half of parents of boys have saved money for college, compared to just 39 percent of parents of girls. Not only are parents saving more money for their sons than their daughters, but they also are more willing to cover the entirety of the cost and take out more money in loans than parents of girls. The survey also stated that 23 percent of parents of sons are willing to take on $75,000 dollars or more in student loans, compared to just 12 percent of parents of girls.

Parents of sons are also way more likely to go “all out” when it comes to funding their child’s education and are less likely to send their sons to cheaper colleges for affordability reasons than their daughters. In fact, 68 percent of parents of only boys are willing to put their own retirement funds on the line in order to save for college, while only half of parents of only girls are. The survey also showed that a greater number of boys than girls (45 percent versus 27) believe that their college savings are more important than their parent’s retirement fund.

Now, this study is certainly a small slice of parents, but the results do hint at an unconscious bias about societal roles. Certain fathers, conscious of it or not, may carry within them unregistered prejudices about what their daughters are capable of both in the workforce and in life. Not only are high-paying engineering and STEM jobs skewed toward men, but 75 percent of men earn more than their wives, which indicates that some fathers, based on their own professional experience, may see more earnings potential in their son. Therefore, they may be more willing to put more money toward their education, sacrifice more for their growth, and prioritize college as the future.

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Yet, for the past two decades, more women have been enrolled in college than men, and more women hold bachelor’s degrees than men. Indeed, there are more young women with college degrees than older women without them, showing a population that is highly educated and ready to work. Despite that, women are still only earning about 80 percent of what men earn.

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Research suggests that women are more likely to get a college degree in part because working-class jobs are unavailable to them and they often demand physical labor and are essentially gender exclusive. The jobs that are working class and are available to women, such as retail, pay far less than working class jobs available to men. There is good news — the pay gap is narrower than ever — but by the time our professional women and men reach their middle age, women will see their salaries stagnate, while men will see theirs grow. All of this is to say that young girls will need a college degree more than their male counterparts in order to earn a comparable amount of money, which makes it all the more problematic that parents aren’t saving for that future.