The XX Factor

Gender Discrimination or Statistical Reality?

Yesterday the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union, ruled that insurers may not consider gender when calculating premiums and payouts. In a statement to the press, the court explained that the practice of taking gender into account in insurance contracts was a form of discrimination. The ruling will go into effect in December 2012 and is expected to significantly impact pension annuities and premiums for both life and car insurance.

While the court’s ruling will be welcome news to older women, who typically receive lower pension payments due to their pesky habit of living longer than men, it’s definitely bad news for teen girls. According to the Guardian ,

Insurers have until now charged young men significantly more to reflect the fact they are more likely to have serious accidents: a male driver under 21 is twice as likely to have an accident than a woman under 21. But the insurance industry will now have to rip up its current pricing model, and young men under the age of 25 are now likely to see premiums decrease by an average of 10%, and in some cases 25%. … At the same time, car insurance premiums for women under the age of 25 are expected to rise by an average of 25% by the end of 2012, but by up to 60% for the youngest drivers, which could translate into an extra £500-£1,000 a year for some.

Under the EU’s new ban, women will be subsidizing men’s risky driving habits. And those habits are legion. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, men are significantly more likely to be involved in both fatal and non-fatal crashes, drive with suspended licenses, drive while intoxicated, and opt out of wearing seatbelts. Of course, all of these figures are averages. But that’s how insurance works. By relying on statistics about the inherent risks of belonging to certain groups, insurance companies can better gauge an individual’s overall risk and design a payment scheme that equitably allocates risk and is fair to the customer and the company.

There’s been a bumper crop of myth- busting studies about innate gender differences over the last couple of years. From Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain, Blue Brain to Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender and Rebecca Jordan-Young’s Brain Storm , researchers are finally debunking decades of biologically justified misogyny and getting the message out that sex differences are not hardwired. If feminists want to advocate for gender equality, we must also be ready to accept the consequences and stop treating these patterns of behavior like immutable facts, even when it benefits us.