End to gendered insurance

// 2 March 2011

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white fiat 500In case you missed it, the European Court of Justice yesterday ruled that insurers will no longer be able to take sex into account when assessing an individual’s risk levels, deeming the practice discriminatory. This means young women will now have to pay more for car insurance and young men’s premiums will come down.

My initial reaction is that this decision makes sense: I don’t think making generalisations based on sex is fair – why should individual men who drive safely be forced to pay more for insurance because others don’t? And as JKBC highlights below, the use of a binary gender model doesn’t account for all of us anyway.

But then on a practical level, insurance works on the basis of generalisations and statistics, by its very nature ignoring the individual and making sweeping assessments based on the characteristics they share with others. And while I would like a non-binary world, I feel we often need to look beyond the individual and identify trends based on binary sex in order to highlight and tackle problems of sexual inequality and oppression, such as male violence against women.

A specific example of this is given in the Guardian article linked to above, where it is noted that, according to the head of the Association of Police Officers in the UK, the biggest killer of young women in Britain is their boyfriend’s and male friends’ driving. A gendered problem, which some argue requires gendered solutions – including higher insurance premiums for young males to discourage those of them who do drive dangerously from running more powerful cars.

Is the ruling the right one from your feminist perspective? Let me know what you think!

Image by Aesum, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Linnie // Posted 2 March 2011 at 10:49 pm

That’s an interesting point, Laura.

If I drove, I’d be happy to pay the same insurance as my male equivalents – providing I get paid the same as them in the first place.

Men are more of a risk when driving; and employers (wrongly) assume women are more of a risk when recruiting. If we’re going to take biological trends and apply them to individuals, surely we should do it uniformly.

Sinead // Posted 2 March 2011 at 10:56 pm

I think it’s fair, as far as I am aware insurance works by spreading the risk across a wide population of people. So the low risk people “pay for” the high risk people.

Simply because the high risk individuals tend to be male that doesn’t make it fair for men to carry the majority of the cost of insurance.

It’s not fair on the low risk men.

Premiums are just insurance companies ripping people off. You have to have insurance to be allowed on the road. They can charge whatever the hell they want.

There is no doubt in my mind that they make huge profits.

Heavy fines going through the cost of the upkeep of roads would make more sense than having to pay a huge insurance quote.

If they made car repairs more expensive for women because women statistically are more likely to have more smaller accidents (like hitting posts/tipping walls etc) in an effort for all women to drive more carefully there would be uproar.

Personally I think insurance companies will simply charge the maximum the public will consider paying, men will consider paying more, in general, because they care more about cars. They see potential profit in charging men a fortune they will more than likely still consider paying.

Women would be more likely (in general) to just pay a less powerful/whatever car to save on insurance. Not as huge profits here on any margin. So they charge woman less, hoping they’ll then buy nicer cars, overall making a bigger profit than they would have made if they charged women men’s prices.

Simply my opinion, I don’t have anything to back it up with, but it will be interesting watch what kind of cars women are driving in 5 years or so. Or how the prices sit.

peace // Posted 3 March 2011 at 12:02 am

well would you feel the same way if it was the other way round?

i never thought it was fair for all men to be lumped together like that, there is no such thing as positive discrimination. Just discrimination.

Scarlett McQueen // Posted 3 March 2011 at 12:11 am

Yep! It makes sense. We’d be up in arms about higher insurance premiums based on, say, race or nationality, and rightly so, as it would be discriminatory and penalise people based on their belonging to a specific social group rather than their own individual risk factors. It’s discrimination, let’s not call it anything else.

adnan. // Posted 3 March 2011 at 1:00 am

“including higher insurance premiums for young males to discourage those of them who do drive dangerously”

Have higher insurance premiums been shown to discourage young males who drive dangerously?

Rose // Posted 3 March 2011 at 1:09 am

I pay less insurance than somebody who parks their car on the road side, or drives during peak hours, because the statistics say my way is safer. (They didn’t ask about local levels of rural crime, or how often I drive at 2am!)

Point is, statistics are intrinsic to the business model.

I don’t think it’s just about discouraging young men from driving powerful cars.

I’m 23, I’ve been driving for 4 years, with no crashes, bumps, speeding tickets, parking fines, etc. I’ve paid into insurance companys, but made no claims.

On the other hand, half of my male friends, (of my own age group), have either written off cars, or lost their lisence. They have made many claims.

They have, (as a collective effort);

-Reversed an industrial pick-up over an Audi,

-Rolled a 4×4 on a golf course, drunk at 4am,

-Driven into a lorry, at 5mph, (sober! broad daylight!),

-Failed to brake due to balloon wedged under pedal,

-Landed in hedge after flying over a hill top so fast they didn’t touch the road in order to make the sharp bend,

-Had five crashes in one hour,

-Written off 4 cars in six months,

-Has a head-on collision on humpback bridge, after skipping a red light,

-Stuck on a hedge after pulling off a motorway late, (cutting across the verge to get onto the slip road),

-Turned off headlights for 4 mins to prove to mates how well he knew the road,

-Gone into reverse on the fast lane of a motorway,

-Speeded like hell on differcult unknown roads within a week of passing tests, ‘cos it would be embarrassing to not keep up with the convey,

…I could go on, really.

I fully accept that the statistics do not suggest that all young male drivers are as bad as my idiot friends (as much as I love them), but come on, if they cost the company more to insure (on average) they should be paying more. Individual drivers costs come down as they prove themselves to be a ‘safe bet’.

If I was 50 years old, I’d pay less. Is that ageist discrimination, or common sense?

p.s. I was in the car for way too many of the above!

Kit // Posted 3 March 2011 at 1:37 am

Not too sure how I feel about this, given there’s no mention of them ruling use of any other discriminating factors as “not allowed” (such as age). I’m surprised they think insurance will drop for young men a little. I would have expected insurance companies to take advantage of this and just raise women’s insurance to match men’s.

And it affects pensions too, but I doubt that’ll stick.

Placebogirl // Posted 3 March 2011 at 2:02 am

I find it fascinating that gender discrimination is struck down so easily by the courts when it financially harms men (even though it might be justified), but when women get the short end of the stick (say the wage gap, for example) it’s justtifiable because “women choose low value jobs”.

polly // Posted 3 March 2011 at 7:36 am

Yes the ruling is right from a feminist perspective, or at least my feminist perspective which is that we shouldn’t assume things about a person’s likely personality and behaviour from their sex, or apparent sex.

The fact that more men have accidents doesn’t mean any particular man is going to share the characteristics of men as a group, so why penalise him financially?

This ISN’T the same as talking about issues such as rape or domestic violence – where more women than men are victims. If more women than men are victims of a crime (or vice versa) we need to ask ourselves why that is and what we can do about it. In this case there’s a purpose to feminist analysis.

But having higher insurance premiums isn’t going to make any individual man drive more safely is it? What would do that is if his insurance cost is based purely on a no claims bonus system.

sianushka // Posted 3 March 2011 at 9:30 am

I’ve mainly been very pissed off with the reporting of this on the media. the whole ‘ooh, well you WANTED equality and so you now you’ve got it’ and ‘well you only want equality when it suits you, you silly women’

To paraphrase obviously.

The whole reporting has been framed in the sense that men are the put upon citizens now, with women getting cooshtie insurance deals and pensions.

What it has completley ignored is the gender pay gap, the fact that women are more likely to live in poverty, especially in old age etc etc. it has all been about how women have apparently been more equal than men in one area, and how awful that is and the poor poor men, whilst completely disregarding the huge amount of gender inequality elsewhere.

in terms of the pay gap, someone on twitter even told me rather angrily that men’s wages in council jobs are being cut to match women’s wages, as if this was women’s fault and not in fact the fault of councils for breaking equality law!

Sarah AB // Posted 3 March 2011 at 9:39 am

When I first read about this possibility a few days ago my first instinct was, like you, to think this was a fair change which responded to individuals rather than lumping people together.

The writer of the article I read suggested that we did need to think about trends when setting insurance rates even if they oversimplified matters. But a parallel occured to me –

I am not sure if this is a valid parallel (or even a parallel based on valid data!) though. Now we are moving to more reliance on student loans – would it then be fair to ask female medical students (say) to pay higher interest rates because they are statistically more likely to go part time or give up work and thus are less likely to allow the state to recoup its investment?

Lindsey // Posted 3 March 2011 at 10:22 am

All people should be assessed for insurance on an individual basis. It will take more time, money and skill from the insurer but it would correspond much more closely to the needs of the individual. I can’t really see that happening though, seeing as pretty much all jobs have been squeezed down to their most basic form by big companies. It’s more likely (and fair) to make everybody pay a flat rate.

*sigh* Both cars and big companies are dangerous, they take our money and our well-being.

Julie // Posted 3 March 2011 at 10:54 am

Although I feel that the courts should be concentrating on eliminating areas of male privilege rather than issues which favour women, I do agree with the ruling.

Even though the system was favourable to women, and it was satisfying for me to use this fact to counter comments about female drivers, the fact that it separated people into gendered groups was highly problematic for me.

I would be appalled if drivers were offered different prices based on their ethnic group, so I’m inclined to think that the sex of the policy holder should also be irrelevant.

I also feel that discriminating between drivers based on age is wrong; I see lots of adverts for insurance companies who only take on older drivers; surely it should be someone’s own personal history which defines their premium, not their demographic!

coldharbour // Posted 3 March 2011 at 11:21 am

” And while I would like a non-binary world, I feel we often need to look beyond the individual and identify trends based on binary sex in order to highlight and tackle problems of sexual inequality and oppression, such as male violence against women.”

There lies the eternal problem: by highlighting trends based on the binary sex to we not promote the ethos that behaviour is gender specific? We must remember that this ruling is specific to biological sex not gender and is in tune conflating the two, by supporting the bill ideologically are we not doing the same? I guess as someone that is gender neutral I find the whole idea both alienating and absurd at the same time.

“There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender… identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.”

Judith Butler

I would put my name on this, but if my boss sees it I'm sunk // Posted 3 March 2011 at 5:29 pm

They also ruled that pension providers can’t give men a more favorable return on their fund than they do women. Men tend to get better returns because they don’t live as long as women. I work as a peon in a pensions firm, and I was pretty pissed off when I learned about that. However I wasn’t mad because a man who retires at 60 tends to gets the same rate of return as a woman who retires at 65 (well, okay, a little bit—but part of that is because women don’t tend to accrue funds as large as men’s because of the wage gap), I was mad that the maximum age of retirement for both sexes was/is 75, which means/meant that there was no way for women to get as large a return as men could potentially get.

I would say I’m ambivalent about the ruling from a fairness perspective—things like pensions are meant to last until your death and your life expectancy is based in part on your sex, so it makes a certain amount of sense to take that into account when setting people’s rates of return. However, I don’t have a lot of respect for the financial services industry or the people running it, so a large part of me is giddy that their lives just got a bit harder because of this.

Fran // Posted 3 March 2011 at 5:47 pm

There is also an argument, in my opinion, that expecting young men to drive badly is actually feeding into the problem in the first place. If you expect a group of people to be reckless then you’re kind of setting it up to happen and allowing certain people to justify their bad behaviour, like as they pay more then they’re expected to act like idiots anyway. This also creates a pressure to conform to that standard with your peers to fit in and feel “male” if that’s what is portrayed as being so. By just always expecting this group of people to drive poorly and accepting that as somehow innate we’re not really going to change the trend.

I think this is a good move and now it’s important to move towards a society where ideas such as “men are more daring” or “women aren’t interested in cars” aren’t automatically accepted anyway. That’s the only way to change the statistics in the long run. The current insurance premiums totally undermined that message and I believe this had to change before society truly can.

Hannah // Posted 3 March 2011 at 8:41 pm

I’m not totally sure what to make of this, but I am surprised at the amount of people agreeing with this move. On one hand I suppose a comparison might be with generalisations made about women in work: ‘they’re more likely to get pregnant and take time out, so let’s not employ them’. But it still seems wrong in this case because insurance is fundamentally a bet. You bet on whether you will be in an accident or not and whether the insurance will be worth it, and there are various factors involved that affect the odds you get on your bet. Gender has been reliably proven to be one of these.

An equivalent ruling to me would be something like: ‘betting shops can’t offer different odds on different horses because that would discriminate against people whose horses are less likely to win’. I concede that a problem with the analogy is that people can choose which horse they bet on, but I think it still stands – both cases are examples of outlawing the use of probability in calculating risk.

Perhaps other people would argue that employing someone is also a ‘bet’, in some sense, and that my argument would justify discrimination against women by employers. As I said, I’m not sure what to make of it, but I find it odd that they have ruled against sexism and not ageism as well. It is inconsistent to rule out one and not the other.

Lucy Harrison // Posted 3 March 2011 at 10:00 pm

However much i would like to feel at ease with this decision – i believe its another example of postfeminist – forcing us to keep our mouths shut and see one of our very few privileges taken away from us AGAIN! I absolutely believe their are bigger problems out there that they should be sorting out rather than the fact that their son pays more insurance than their daughter. Women still earn at least 75% less than men in the workplace – why aren’t they more interested to sort that out? Do you know why because they wont make any money from it! They wont lower mens premiums, they will heighten ours and then everybody’s paying more. Then everybody’s happy right – oh yea, coz women dont count!

polly // Posted 3 March 2011 at 10:47 pm


“An equivalent ruling to me would be something like: ‘betting shops can’t offer different odds on different horses because that would discriminate against people whose horses are less likely to win’. I concede that a problem with the analogy is that people can choose which horse they bet on, but I think it still stands – both cases are examples of outlawing the use of probability in calculating risk.”

No it wouldn’t be equivalent-

1)because if you want to drive you have to have insurance, nobody has to bet on a horse, but more importantly

2)it’s NOT outlawing probability in calculating risk, it’s saying it’s discrminatory to calculate the probabability of a risk based on a person’s sex.

I apologise in advance if anyone is offended by this analogy – but what if black people had more car accidents than white people – would you then say it was justfied to charge black people higher premiums?

I sincerely hope the answer to that would be ‘no’.

Now it may well be that there are things about the way men, particularly young men are socialised that makes them more likely to take risks when driving.

That doesn’t mean it’s not discriminatory to penalise all men for the actions of a few though.

What IS being outlawed is saying we can treat people as a homogenous group on the basis of their sex.

I don’t think true feminism can involve advocating gendered discrimination when it favours women. And though I take Sianushka’s point about women’s incomes being lower, I think that’s a completely separate issue.

It is the in the interests of insurance companies to attract safe drivers as customers – because they’re the people they make money out of. So I’m sure the insurance industry will find a way of still attracting safer drivers with lower premiums in the form of no claims bonuses. And if women have less accidents they will still benefit, once they’ve been driving for a while.

coldharbour // Posted 4 March 2011 at 3:41 pm


I think the point you made about media coverage (which is an obviously valid point in itself) is kinda derailing from the issue, I think Laura was wanting to know if you agreed with the legislation or not, a point you didn’t seem to address in your post.


The second point you made sums it up, why as a feminist would anyone advocate collective responsibility based on biological sex profiling?

Qubit // Posted 4 March 2011 at 4:28 pm

polly, I think it is very idealistic to say that different races pay the same for their insurance. While the insurance company can’t judge directly on race, it can judge on the area which you live (and hence indirectly income etc.) The assumption that one race isn’t paying proportionally more for their insurance works on the assumption that we are a racially integrated society rather than having communities that consist of mainly one race.

This isn’t direct racism but I think it would still lead to a strong race bias in insurance premiums. I am not sure if the statistics are out there, but I will have a look.

I think the problem with this as an equality move is nobody benefits. It is similar to lowering men’s pay to be inline with women’s, the only people benefiting are the big companies. However in the same way as the above scenario often the people who campaign for equality do wish for benefits. It seems to be a common feature that whatever you want will be used against you.

The interesting difference is that when men’s pay was lowered to be in line with women’s both sides thought it disgraceful. In this case some men are celebrating that women have to pay more now. This isn’t celebrating a gain to themselves but rather enjoying the disadvantages equality brings upon the opposite sex. I find that rather odd.

It is fairer and right, but I’d be surprised if it made much difference for anyone but new drivers. Everyone else has a record of their own driving ability which is more likely to be used than anything else. I wouldn’t be surprised though to see the different premiums for people from different areas, and driving certain cars become more extreme.

Lorna // Posted 4 March 2011 at 6:26 pm

Seems fair enough to me, if you actually have accidents or get points on your license your premium goes up anyway. It seems rather unreasonable to charge male drivers more solely because they are male.

On the other hand, this ruling also effects pensions. Which should be favourable to women and might even mean less women being totally impoverished in old age. (But it may just mean more men impoverished in old age and very few women benifitting, ie if mens pensions are decreased and womens are not increased).

Unfortuately I suspect the insurance companies will use this as an excuse to put average prices up.

So, I’d say right ruling, wrong economic system.

Lorna // Posted 4 March 2011 at 6:36 pm

I suspect higher insurance premiums does little to stop young male drivers from driving like idiots.

I think we have a culture that encourages people in cars to always think they are in the right and to think that breaking laws relating to driving isn’t really breaking the law.

I personally would really support more speed cameras and more traffic police looking for drivers doing illegal and or dangerous things.

polly // Posted 4 March 2011 at 11:12 pm

Qubit: I didn’t say different races DO pay the same for their insurance. I said I hoped that everyone could see a higher insurance premium based solely on the grounds of someone’s race would be discriminatory.

We don’t KNOW what the outcome of this as an equality move will be. It is in insurance companies interests – as I said – to attract drivers who don’t make claims.

Because insurance is a competitive market insurance companies will still want to offer lower premiums to low risk drivers to attract them from competitors. So any lower risk driver (which will translate into more women than men if more women than men have no claims bonuses) will pay less anyway.

The effect will be the same, but based on actual risk rather than grouping by gender.

coldharbour // Posted 5 March 2011 at 2:51 pm


“However much i would like to feel at ease with this decision – i believe its another example of postfeminist – forcing us to keep our mouths shut and see one of our very few privileges taken away from us AGAIN!”

Who do you mean by “us”? This ruling affects biological men who neither identify of behave like “men”. The “us vs them” binary jingoism is nothing more than looking at things through the cis-privileged lense.

Alex T // Posted 5 March 2011 at 3:01 pm

Over time, the amount one pays will be more reflective of one’s driving anyway as a no-claims bonus is built up. This ought to mean that those people, male or female, who drive more dangerously (witness Rose’s mates, above!) will have to pay more and those who are not responsible for accidents will pay less. I admit it doesn’t always work, such as when you are involved in an accident with someone who doesn’t have insurance and so have to claim on your own, but on the whole it’s still fairer than the sweeping generalisations about men and women that we had before.

Anna Scheele // Posted 5 March 2011 at 3:27 pm

I think it’s important to remember that fairness means everyone getting what they need, not what they want. The entire insurance business is based on the using statistics to calculate risk; if women are statistically less likely to have car accidents, their car insurance should be lower.

However, I agree that using these statistics as an excuse to discriminate against one gender just reinforces the social pressures and stereotypes which create these differences in the first place. The best way to make sure that equality is achieved in this area is to tailor risk calculation to individuals rather than demographics.

Kit // Posted 8 March 2011 at 9:22 pm

The talk about no-claims and higher/lower premiums, isn’t that already supposed to happen? Like, I thought you were supposed to get better deals etc. as you got more experience as a driver and less claims, but from what my parents have said it seems like they’re just throwing money away on insurance (they’re both safe drivers, only claim recently was when some joy riders trashed a load of cars on our street). Maybe they just need to change insurers though?

Tina // Posted 27 April 2011 at 2:56 pm

I agree discriminatory practices are wrong and believe it is the individual who behaves inappropraitely who should be made to pay more. What i think is most unfair about all of this is there is still insurance discrimination in the form if you live in a area with a higher vehicle crime rate you are going to pay more for your insurance, this is also discriminatory. another instance to mention is when another driver drives into your vehicle and you end up paying a higher premium and how this can result in you losing no claims discount as a result.

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