A new study finds that auto insurance providers discriminate against women, charging them higher rates if they are single or newly widowed. James Lynch, an actuary with the Insurance Information Institute assured reporters from NBC News that insurance companies base their pricing models on hard data, accounting for a number of variables that have been proven to accurately predict the risk of any given driver getting in an accident. “Insurance companies don’t pull these variables out of the hat,” he said. “They look very closely to see what variables will reflect their likelihood to have accidents and adjust rates accordingly.”
Unmoved by the argument, the Director of Insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, Robert Hunter, told NBC news that he found it ‘difficult to make any direct correlation between driving risk and marital status’, further stating that he felt the discriminatory pricing might ‘violate actuarial standards’. According to Hunter, the insurance industry ‘has been moving away from the traditional approach of basing premiums on known risk factors, such as the number of tickets a motorist has, and whether they have been involved in accidents. Instead, he said, there is more use of what he described as “spurious” data for which it can be difficult to show a real cause-and-effect.’
However, when the price discrimination is against men, particularly young men, the Insurance Information Institute is curiously unconcerned about spurious data. Spokesman Mike Barry explains that ‘[a]cross the board, you see young men paying more for insurance, which makes sense. Statistically, young men are riskier drivers, which means they are, on average, more expensive to insure.’ 20 year old single men pay 24% more for auto insurance, than 20 year old married men, on the assumption that ‘individuals—particularly young individuals—get more serious about being better drivers when they’re married’, according to Robert Hunter, the same man who claims that there is no relationship between risk and marital status when it comes to women.
An argument is often made by feminists that sexism against men is impossible, because men do not face culture-wide, institutional discrimination that affects their well-being, physically, socially or economically. The wide gender gap in criminal sentencing suggests men face powerful institutional forces that treat them differently solely on the basis of their gender, and the global under-funding of men’s healthcare similarly suggests that men’s physical well-being is rarely prioritized over the health and well-being of girls and women. Price discrimination in the auto insurance industry decried as sexism when it applies to women, provides evidence that men are economically harmed for no reason other than that they are men.
Sexism against men may be invisible to even those individuals charged with exploring the issues in a very explicit way, such as Robert Hunter, but that does not mean sexism against men does not exist. Single men considering an auto insurance policy need only compare their quotes to single women or married men to know that stereotypes about men are regularly engaged and used to punish men, even when the correlations used to justify those stereotypes are ‘spurious’ and may ‘violate actuarial standards.’ These accusations are only worthy of consideration when they affect women.
And that’s what sexism looks like.