Julie Miller Talks Student Debit for City Awake Webinar

by Adam Felts

AgeLab Research Scientist Julie Miller participated in a webinar titled “Navigating Student Debt During A Pandemic.” Dr. Miller presented along with Asha Srikantiah, who is Head of the Student Debt Program at Fidelity Investments. The virtual event was hosted by City Awake, a career development organization in Boston, MA, that seeks to empower next-generation Greater Boston leaders through programming that builds community and fosters dialogue about the most pressing issues facing the region

Dr. Miller discussed findings from AgeLab-TIAA research on student debt, retirement, and family relationships. Part of the inspiration for the study, she noted, was increasing coverage in mainstream news sources on student debt affecting older adults. The mixed-methods study, which was led by Dr. Miller as part of her doctoral dissertation, included focus groups and a national survey of 1,800 borrowers. Study participants included borrowers of all ages, as well as people with small and larger amounts of student loans.

The study found that student loan repayment rivals and affects saving for retirement, consistent with prior research demonstrating loans delaying life events like buying a home and starting a family. 84 percent of borrowers in the AgeLab study said that loans negatively affect their retirement savings, and 72% intended to start saving for retirement only after their loans were paid off. In addition, higher debt was correlated with lower financial self-efficacy – the belief in one’s ability to accomplish a financial goal or task.

Dr. Miller also discussed some study findings related to student debt and relationships. For some people, student loans were an “elephant in the room” at the dinner table, Dr. Miller said, creating conflicts in their romantic and familial relationships.

However, despite these negative experiences and impacts related to student debt, respondents overwhelmingly believed that taking out their loans in order to pursue higher education was a worthwhile decision.

In her remarks, Asha Srikantiah talked about the prevalence of student debt among the workforce and its impact across industries. She also discussed benefits programs offered by Fidelity for employers to help their employees manage their student debt and save for retirement.

During the Q&A session that concluded the webinar, Dr. Miller observed that “planning for one’s future self is really complex, particularly for younger borrowers.” The twin challenges that many Americans face of managing student debt and planning for their future lives are issues not only for individuals, but also for employers, financial advisors, social workers, and policymakers.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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