Higher premiums are a small price for equality
I am, of course, being facetious. I am also quite annoyed. I have been watching a lot of talk in the media and reading news articles about the recent Test-Achats judgement at the ECJ; it is the judgement on insurers’ ability to adjust premiums on the basis of gender. And it seems to me that nobody is talking about some astoundingly enormous elephants sitting in the room, having tea.
First of all, I must take exception on how the matter is being reported. The dumbed-down version claims that “[i]nsurers cannot charge different premiums to men and women because of their gender, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.” This is not so. It is actually a 2004 Directive, discussed and approved by the European Parliament, that says that. The directive provided member states with the ability to make an exception in certain circumstances. These exceptions had to be reviewed by December this year. The directive, however, unusually did not give a maximum time-frame within which they should apply. All the ECJ has said today is that the December deadline will apply to the exceptions. In short, point A: There is a lot of hoo-ha about something that was decided within the legislative framework of the EU many years ago.
Secondly, the flip side of the ruling is that women will get significantly larger actuary pension payments and men smaller. This seems to merit a lot less space in every report I have read. Perhaps because the pinch in the pocket of the majority of women right now is more newsworthy than the benefits many years down the line. Or perhaps because the idea of “evil Europe” being to blame for everything – yawn! – is still fashionable in some quarters.
But my major gripe is simply that the ruling is absolutely right. Not only that, it is a big step towards equality. The upsetting undercurrent of nobody saying this, is that we would all like equality, it seems, but only if it costs nothing.
Statistics being used to fuel stereotypes are deeply unhealthy – period. Let me flip the scenario for you. Let us say an insurance company gathers some statistics based on race and there is some significant statistical variation. Would it be all right to have lower premiums for Asian drivers? How about companies that only insure Asian drivers and whose advertising campaign was based on the grossest of stereotypes? Are we still OK with that? Whites-only insurance companies? Gay men paying more than straight men? At which point does it become offensive?
What if I am a transexual who has gone through gender reassignment and acquired the proper certificate under the Gender Recognition Act 2004? I am no longer a man in the eyes of the law. I belong to a different statistic. My premiums might drop 25%. I am not a better driver, of course.
At the core of the struggle for equality, be it race, sex or gender must be a willingness to make sacrifices and take the rough with the smooth. Most discriminatory assumptions can find support in statistics. To accept one such assumption, is to open up oneself to others. We cannot pick and choose which generalisations suit us and which do not. And the depiction of women as pink-sequin-covered, boa-wielding Shielas in the advertising of such insurance companies, proves that amply. This particular bit of the path to equality may not be to your liking, but it is a minor inconvenience compared to chaining oneself to railings or being shot at in a Tripoli street.
What everyone ought to be talking about is the need for very strict regulation during the transition, so that insurance companies do not use this ruling as an excuse to bring women’s premiums up without reducing men’s or reduce men’s annuities without increasing women’s. Also, a move to a system that rewards actual rather than perceived good driving for individual customers. This is not man versus woman. It is big business versus consumer.
And so, my sisters, look on today as the victory that it is. The removal of yet another assumption based on gender generalities.