Student loans are bad for your health, study finds

Other reports say overall benefit of higher education may be worth it


Student loans may be bad for an individual's health, according to a new study from the University of South Carolina (USC).

Researchers examined the link between psychological function and student-loan debt for individuals currently enrolled and those 25 to 32 years old. To calculate the effects of growing loans, they measured physical and mental effects, while accounting for institution type, degree earned, and family income.

They found that loans were "significantly and inversely" related with better psychological function.

However, low-income students with higher cumulative debt actually had better mental health, suggesting that the student loans reflect improving economic status. Having battled more roadblocks than their more wealthy peers, this group may also have personality traits that enable them to better deal with stresses such as student loans, according to the study.

The findings echo a 2013 report from Northwestern University (NU) that found higher debt relative to assets caused subjects to report higher stress and depression levels, and overall worse general health. Feeling significantly in debt also led to higher diastolic blood pressure—which is linked to hypertension and stroke risk.

However, some higher levels of absolute debt were associated with better self-reported health, also suggesting that student loans ultimately help people reach a higher socioeconomic status.

As college prices continue to increase, more students must take out loans, prompting many to question the return on their investment. According to Project on Student Debt, in 2013 70% of graduating college seniors left with student loans averaging $28,400.

Prospective students increasingly look at outcomes to choose colleges

Although this new study suggests student debt may negatively affect recent graduates, previous research has found higher education levels correlate with better long-term self-reported physical and mental health (White, The Atlantic, 2/2).

The takeaway Higher levels of relative student loan debt are bad for people's mental and physical health, according to a new study, but higher education may benefit overall health in the long run.

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