Framing the Human Capital Investment Decision: Examining Gender Bias in Student Loan Borrowing

  • Suzanne BartholomaeEmail author
  • D. Elizabeth Kiss
  • Jesse B. Jurgenson
  • Barbara O’Neill
  • Sheri Lokken Worthy
  • Jinhee Kim
Original Paper


Recent literature suggests that the persistent gender wage gap, joined with a larger proportion of student loan debt, reduces the financial benefits of a college degree for women. Grounded in the theory of human capital and behavioral finance, this study investigates gender differences in student loan decisions using an experimental survey design with the online data collection. Participants (n = 1926) were randomly assigned to a treatment scenario about whether to enter college or the workforce that was manipulated by attribute frames of a gain, loss, or aspiration and varied by the gender of the character in a hypothetical scenario. The attribute frames did not influence the evaluation of student loan decisions. No significant gender differences were found in the evaluation of student loan borrowing or the experimental treatment scenarios, suggesting societal movement towards more gender-neutral attitudes regarding student loan borrowing and degree-seeking motivations.


Student loans Human capital Gender College investment Higher education College attendance Framing Prospect theory 



This research project is the result of a multi-state collaboration supported by the US Department of Agriculture and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. We thank J. Ernest Minton for his continued support. The authors would also like to thank the Christina Glenn for her support in pursuing this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Kansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  3. 3.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  4. 4.Rutgers Cooperative ExtensionNew BrunswickUSA
  5. 5.University of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  6. 6.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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