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21 December 2012

Gender neutral pricing won’t work in the way you think

The change that will probably change again.

By Martha Gill

From today, insurance companies can no longer charge women and men different premiums.

An instant and (widely reported) consequence of this will be a financial hit for female drivers, who will see car insurance costs rise, and for elderly men – whose pensions will get smaller.

But this state of affairs probably won’t last long. With the new rule, profit margins for insurance companies will shoot up (note that womens’ car insurance is going up, rather than mens’ going down). This is likely to lead to insurers competing over market share, causing premiums to fall again, and probably ending up somewhere in the middle of the two original points.

Or the situation might resolve itself another way. Discriminating by gender made sense for insurers: men, on average, drive more often than women, and drive more dangerously. Women, on average, live longer.

Now that those risk factors aren’t factored in, the insurance industry might simply start accounting for them in a different way – perhaps looking at how much you drive. This way they can still discriminate against male drivers – but not so explicitly. What about pensions? Well, as men are more likely to be bald, insurers could start discriminating by forehead:hair ratio, or indeed by blood testosterone levels. The point is that population risk analysis always means discrimination – and if it doesn’t happen one way, it’ll happen another.

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