Norwegian women must pay higher insurance premiums in the name of gender equality while Irish women continue to get a better deal.
It pays to be a woman, at least when shopping for car insurance. Female drivers throughout Europe have long been rewarded with preferential insurance premiums as they are less accident-prone, and hence considered a lower risk, than men. That’s no longer the case in Norway.
In a country that takes equality so seriously that the government recently threatened companies with less than the requisite minimum 40% level of female participation on their boards with closure, women must now pay the same insurance premiums as men in the name of equality. In 2003, the Norwegian Equality Ombudswoman ruled that preferential insurance rates based on gender were unlawful and gave insurers two years to justify such pricing practices.
Ireland has just as comprehensive gender legislation as non-EU Norway and it prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods or services but Irish insurance companies have managed to defend their right to continue gender-based pricing.
According to Carmel Mulroy of the Irish Insurance Federation (IIF): “An EU Council of Social Affairs Ministers meeting agreed in December 2004 that individual member states can opt out of a regime to outlaw gender in the pricing of insurance products so long as they demonstrate that insurers take into account sound data when calculating premiums.”
According to the IIF, actuarial consultants have calculated that young female drivers present a lesser risk than young male drivers from an insurance perspective and that as both genders age this risk discrepancy narrows. A National Roads Authority report published in 2001 backed this up; it showed the driver fatality rate - the number of drivers killed per 100,000 population - for 18-24 year olds was more than 10 times higher for males than it was for females.
Ms Mulloy explains: “Decades of analysing accident rates and claims have taught insurers that providing motor cover to young men costs more than insuring young women. Hence insurers charge young men more for motor insurance. If they didn't, it would mean that young women would pay more to subsidise young men. It could also mean that, with artificially low premiums, more young male drivers would be on the road, resulting in a higher per capita rate of deaths and injuries.”
Norwegian insurance providers have access to similar gender-biased accident statistics and were as keen as their Irish counterparts to maintain the price differences on premiums but they failed to justify the practice to the Equality Ombudswoman.
“The individual woman and man shall have the opportunity to go outside the stereotype and be considered according to their personal position,” the Ombudswoman explained in her statement on the issue. Basically, she judged it fair to price premiums based on an individual’s occupation, driving record and age but not on their gender; just because some men are more accident-prone than others doesn’t mean it is fair to penalise all men, simply because they are men.
Last week the Oslo-based Aftenposten newspaper reported that some young Norwegian women could end up paying as much as 1200 Euros more in annual premiums than before. Women drivers’ wallets in Ireland are safe for the moment although the insurance industry will have to continue to defend their use of statistics to the EU.
“The Irish Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is establishing a working group on the implementation of the EU Directive. IIF will participate in this working group and are hopeful that insurers will be able to continue to take gender into account when pricing products where sound actuarial or statistical data clearly demonstrates that it makes sense to do so,” says Ms Mulroy.
Meanwhile as Norwegian women reach deeper into their pockets, they can console themselves with the fact that the push for equality that is responsible is also increasing their chances of some day sitting in a board room with male colleagues, as equals.