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Should Women Get Equal Treatment From Life Insurance Companies?

In his recent State of the Union Address address, President Obama spoke about women’s inequality in the workplace. Activist groups on both the right and the left reacted immediately. This issue is sure to be at the forefront of the upcoming elections. The “equal treatment of women” is sure to be a major topic of national debate.

Let’s hope it bypasses the life insurance industry – at least as far as underwriting is concerned. The last thing women want is to be treated like men when being assessed for life insurance rates. The fact is that women by and large live longer than men, and therefore deserve lower premiums. The individualized underwriting that is standard to the industry keeps things fair: if you represent a higher risk, then you pay more money. If you represent a lower risk, then you pay less money.

A solid statistical database backs this up. Actually, it is rather interesting. Here are some conclusions about why women live longer from the Population Reference Bureau. It was published in 2007. I cannot say it is the exact data that is used by insurance companies, but I am sure it is similar.

Men living shorter lives across the globe (mostly)

In Russia, for instance, the difference between male and female life expectancy is 13 years (59 vs. 72). In other countries, such as the United States, the male disadvantage is smaller: 5 years (75 vs. 80). And in some countries, such as Afghanistan, there is little or no male disadvantage (42 vs. 42).

Men living dangerously

In developed countries, men’s more risky unhealthy behaviors are a major reason they die younger. Their higher rates of cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, gun use, employment in hazardous occupations, and risk taking in recreation and driving are responsible for males’ higher death rate due to lung cancer, accidents, suicide, and homicide.

Men getting life-threatening illness

While women rate their health worse than men and visit the hospital more often than men from early adolescence to late middle age, they are less likely to die at each age. This paradox can be explained at least in part by differences in the prevalence of chronic conditions men and women face.

Women experience higher rates of pain (headache, arthritis), and some respiratory conditions, including bronchitis, asthma, and lung problems not related to cancer. They are also much more likely to suffer from reproductive cancers, hypertension, vision problems, and depression. Men are more likely to suffer from hearing loss; smoking-related ailments, such as emphysema and respiratory cancer; and circulatory problems including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

It seems to me that a more pressing societal concern should be preventing men from killing ourselves so much! What is your vote: should men and women be treated the same in life insurance underwriting?