By now, you should be familiar with the idea that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” If you haven’t heard of the best-selling book or at least the concept, you must fondly be recalling your days of living under a rock in the ‘90s, as this endearing sentiment isn’t talking about the origin of our creation. It’s a metaphor meant to symbolize the differences between men and women, because whether you like it or not, science has proved we’re different animals.
Of course, some men and women will defy stereotypes, but in the insurance industry, majority rules, and men find themselves paying more for car insurance.
I can hear you now.
“That sounds like discrimination!”
However, insurance companies use hard facts to set premiums, and some of the determining factors have nothing to do with your driving skills, but whether you got wrapped in a pink blanket or a blue blanket when you made your entrance into this world.
Gender as a Non-Driving Factor
In addition to things like your credit score and your address, insurance companies want to know your sex. Like it or not men, you’re going to pay more for car insurance.
“Men traditionally have been paying more for decades, and while the cost gap closes somewhat after age 25, it never fully closes,” says Loretta Worters, Vice President of the Insurance Information Institute (III).
One 2012 analysis revealed that men pay close to $15K more than women over their lifespan for auto insurance coverage, but disparity can range with location and age. According to the Insurance Information Network, men pay approximately $1,520 a year on average for auto insurance, while women pay just under $1,400 a year. Luckily, as men get older, rates tends to become more equalized. Overall though, men have not only ‘HIS-torically’ paid more than women, but it seems men will continue to pay more over the course of their lifetimes because they traditionally take more risks. The question is – why? And perhaps more importantly, what can be done to curb the differences this apparently causes in insurance prices between men and women?
He’s a Heart Breaker, A Risk Taker
The statistics may speak for themselves:
- In a study conducted by the Department of Transportation, crash statistics from 2000-2009 were analyzed and it was found that men were involved in 18 million more accidents than their female counterparts.
- According to the Insurance Information for Highway Safety (IIHS), 71% of all 2011 crash deaths were male victims. Also, women wear seatbelts 27% more often than males, and men are two times as more likely to drive with a suspended license.
- Based on a study by Quality Planning, a company that verifies customer insurance information, men are issued reckless driving tickets 3.41 more times than women. Quality Planning President Dr. Rah Bhat stated, “We were not surprised to see that men have slightly more violations that result in accidents than women. And because men are also more likely to violate laws for speeding, passing, and yielding, the resulting accidents caused by men lead to more expensive claims than those caused by women.”
If you’re a woman, you may have read those stats and thought to yourself, ‘And he calls me the bad driver.’ If you’re a man, you may be thinking ‘but that’s not me! I wear my seatbelt!’ Or you may be ready to hold a rally and burn auto insurance policies. Unfortunately, insurance isn’t exempt from the rule that often if one person messes something up, a lot of innocent people pay for the other’s mistake. In addition to using some of your actual driving history, insurance is almost as equally about probability and possibility, and history is a good indicator of the future.
These are the hard facts insurance companies are identifying as prime reasons to raise men’s insurance rates. Other behavioral studies contribute to this gender bias. Research conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre found that driving differences between men and women exist across the planet and stem “from more fundamental differences in specific areas of behavior and psychological functioning.”
Psychology of the Male Driver
Many studies cite that men are more reckless drivers, but what makes them that way? When you break down reckless driving, it can often be contributed to aggressive on-road behavior. But why the aggression?
At first thought, raging testosterone may seem to blame, and some studies have suggested this is the reason men are less than perfect drivers. Women have more estrogen, so maybe they’re more ‘compassionate’ drivers, whereas testosterone is often the leading culprit behind aggression and risk taking.
While on the topic of hormones, it’s worth considering what may not be going on in men’s heads while driving and what variables are different in the experiments we’re unfortunately conducting out on the open road everyday. Is it possible that men perhaps aren’t worst drivers, just not as safe as their female counterparts because of certain extenuating factors – like children being in the car?
Barbara and Allen Pease, a husband and wife who have authored a series of books on the differences between men and women, discuss this in their book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Why Women Can’t Read Maps.” It may sound a bit sexist, but so does the difference in auto insurance rates between men and women. They cite studies which suggests that women are more likely to have children in the vehicle with them, meaning they’re less likely to engage in risky driving behavior and are also more likely to be attentive and cautious. They also state that women are inherently more prone to hearing certain noises and reacting to them quickly due to being biologically ‘programmed’ to hear the cries of a child. Women often complain that men have selective hearing, so is this well-known ‘flaw’ men are often accused of something contributing to the higher incidents male drivers experience, driving their insurance rates higher and higher?
The husband and wife team also point out another ‘natural’ difference between men and women’s bodies that may have something to do with gender and driving behavior. It’s all in the eyes.
According to their book, men and women share different characteristics in their eyes which they claim to be a result of evolutionary needs. Men have more cones in their eyes, while women have more rods in their eyes.
It’s more significant than it sounds – more cones translates to better central focus, vision, and depth perception. Quite simply, another stereotypical male behavior could be at work here — men basically have ‘tunnel vision’ as a result of this tiny biological factor. These characteristics may help explain why you see more men in NASCAR races than women, and why men feel they can take any curve the road throws at them. Due to this naturally occurring factor, it’s possible that it contributes to a confidence which encourages men to take any curve without hesitation and perhaps a little more carelessly than a woman would – just one more thing leading to more accidents, and thus higher premiums.
Women, on the other hand, have more rods, which provides stronger peripheral vision as well as the ability to see better in the dark. Could this mean women simply have a stronger ability to see ‘danger’ approaching from either side, helping them avoid accidents? And since this suggests that men may not see as well in the dark, perhaps it’s more common for men to have car accidents while driving at night.
Cones and rods in the eyes don’t explain the aggression factor that seems to be a large contributing factor to men, car accidents, violations, and consequently, their higher auto insurance rates though. One study conducted by Temple University and published in Journal of Psychology & Marketing took the common knowledge that men are aggressive drivers and examined how the fact that “men tend to see their cars as an extension of themselves” might play into more aggressive behavior. The study found “individuals may view cars and the road space they occupy as their territory and will seek to maintain control over it and defend it as necessary.” Some inherent caveman quality, perhaps?
But some claim a car means much more than just a car to many people, women included. We all have certain car colors we wouldn’t even consider if it were given to us, and others are opposed to the soccer mom van. The territory theory and the ‘deeper meaning’ behind cars and driving as it pertains to men was debated in the book Driving Passion: The Psychology of the Car by Peter E. Marsh, and suggests that “territorial imperative” might be behind the risk-taking behavior. Men might see a car as a symbol of their independence and feel the need to defend it by driving aggressively like a Viking running into battle.
Even if nature is to blame and not nurture, it likely won’t bring a drastic reduction to men’s insurance premiums. However, it may be able to help men understand what it is they’re doing behind the wheel that needs some nurturing into better ways, and correcting bad behavior or breaking bad habits is undoubtedly much easier than convincing every insurer that men ‘can’t help it, so please lower their insurance rates.’
Obviously (and luckily for many women) modern men have shunned their cavemen-like tendencies of knuckle dragging and cleaning dinner in the living room, but the primal urge to protect and defend remains, especially when it comes to ‘territory.’ It seems the brain paths that once equipped us for survival, when placed behind 2 tons of machinery, are now killing a disproportionate number of men.
On a positive note, this alleged ‘territory marking’ could be worse than aggressive driving — male animals mark their territory with urine.
Europe Bans Gender Discrimination in Insurance Industries
But that brings up the question, if this type of behavior is hardwired into men’s brains, should they be punished for it by paying higher insurance rates? Europe doesn’t think so, and plenty of women know that Europe is often way ahead when it comes to trends.
December 2012 brought a new insurance standard to Europe, but it doesn’t help men so much as it makes things worse for women. Insurance companies and even the British Government was opposed to this legislation, but it still passed and affects all areas of insurance. Some young men will see premiums decrease, but as a result, women’s premiums will rise by as much as 25%, even if they haven’t made claims on their policy.
If you’re a woman, at this point you’re probably re-thinking all those romanticized ideas you had about living somewhere in Europe. And you’re probably thinking “That sounds like discrimination!”
It may not seem fair to a careful female driver, and the question remains – is it? To top it off, those who are under 25 will face the biggest increase.
“Statistically speaking, women are safer driver than men, which is why they have historically paid less for car insurance. But when the gender ruling comes in to force, many women will get an unfair deal,” says Grant Mitchell, head of UK motor insurance company The Co-operative. Some fear this new ruling will raise premiums overall because pricing models are equalized instead of accurate.
Ask yourself this now: Is disregarding facts in the name of equality fair?
The Debate Continues
Anyone with common sense understand that riding with stubborn, blind Aunt Betty is much more dangerous than sitting in the passenger seat of your calm and collected husband’s 5 star SUV. Gender generalization is dangerous, and some say the statistics are unfairly skewed against men because they drive more. In fact, statistics show that men drive close to 61% of total miles in the country (perhaps because they won’t stop for directions?). One study conducted by the University of Michigan found that while women aren’t as aggressive, they aren’t as skilled at navigating major traffic junctions. Women are more likely to get hit while trying to make a turn, but even incorporating number of miles driven, men still have a 77% higher risk of dying in a car crash.
While gender equalization for the insurance industry doesn’t exist in the United States, it will be interesting to see how it affects Europe. The most drastic price differences will be most evident while men are still young, but if you’re a safe driver, your premiums will be lowered as you get older. You may not be able to choose what gender you come into this world as, but it’s up to you to determine your behavior on the road.
Follow Desiree on Twitter @DesireeBaughman.