Demographic Characteristics

Since widespread student loan borrowing in Canada is largely a  phenomenon of the 1990s, it is not surprising that those with student loans among their debts are quite a bit younger than other bankrupts. More than one-half (57.3 per cent) of those with student loans among their debts were under thirty, as opposed to only 32 per cent of all bankrupts. Those whose student loans were critical to their bankruptcy were younger—62.8 per cent were under thirty. These figures are based upon calculations from the Survey of Potential Bankrupts.

Unlike other forms of credit, there are no obvious gender differences in student loan lending. Women are just as likely to go on to post-secondary education, and are just as likely to borrow from student loan programs. There are, however, gender differences in the ability of borrowers to repay student loans—differences that arise from the fact that women earn less, on average, than men, even when education is held constant. Thus, women end up with the same loan obligations but lower earnings. As a result, while 40 per cent of the full sample of bankrupts were women, over 60 per cent of those with student loans were women.

Given that student loans are made available only to individuals who enrol in designated post-secondary programs, it comes as no surprise that those with student loans among their liabilities are better educated than the overall group of survey respondents. Only 14.5 per cent reported a completed level of education of high school or less, compared to 47.2 per cent of the overall sample.
The figure of 14.5 per cent presumably represents those who did not complete the postsecondary program in which they enrolled. About 45 per cent had a post-secondary credential (split roughly equally between those with university and college degrees). The remaining 40 per cent reported having “some” post-secondary education but no completed degree.

The distribution of marital status of the overall group was quite different from the marital status of those with student loans. Those with student loans were much more likely to be single. In both groups, among those who were not single, there was a high proportion who were divorced or separated. Finally, the overall group was somewhat more likely to have dependants (including both children and dependant adults).

The socio-economic picture of those with student loans is of a group that contained more women, and was younger and better educated than the group of all bankrupts. Looking at these
characteristics alone (apart from the relatively high proportion of “formerly married” individuals), the group with student loans looks much like any group of similar-aged Canadians. The similarity ends there, however, as an examination of their economic situation shows.

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