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On the Rampage: The Vagina Travelogue

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Posted October 24, 2012 by Sinéad Keogh in Ramp Specials
Women Drivers

Most days, the very fact of being a woman impacts negatively on a woman’s life. She gets paid less. She might get pregnant. She cannot, no matter how hard she tries, make Neil Patrick Harris be attracted to her. She has to sit down to pee. A whole host of other things. But sometimes, just sometimes, we enjoy certain perks of gender that make all that business of shedding our womb linings and heaving around the great weight of our boobs all worthwhile. Like, say, when it comes to having cheaper car insurance.

Insurance premiums are based on risk and that risk is assessed based on a number of factors. Some of those factors are personal to your situation, and others are informed by wider statistics which tell us the likelihoods of what might happen to people of a certain age, people who live in a certain place, and yep, the important one for today, people of a certain gender.

Insurance companies are clever people. How many fingers you’ve lost to diabetes before you signed up for health insurance will impact on both the rate of the premium, and the extent of cover (like, say, not covering pre-existing conditions). How many other road users you have played bumper cars with, for example, or the number of penalty points for speeding that indicate your penchant for pretending you’re at Mondello, will most definitely have a part to play in calculating your motor insurance premium. But that’s all the personal stuff. That’s how your lifestyle and your history impact on the money you pay out for various different kinds of cover.

Also at play are statistics. Crime rates in Crumlin versus crime rates in Ranelagh. Number of women who’ve had write-offs as opposed to number of men. Number of 18-year-olds who’ve had accidents as compared to those over 35. If you’re a 40-year-old woman living in Kerry, insuring you is much less of a risk than insuring a 17-year-old boy living in Dublin city centre, presuming of course that your driving history doesn’t show you to be a roving accident black spot. You have more experience, you live in an area where your car is less likely to be damaged and you’re a woman – women just aren’t as dangerous behind the wheel of a car.

Women’s premiums will be brought into line with men’s. Women haven’t made themselves any more dangerous on the road, they’ve just lost one of their gender perks.

So then to Europe and the matter of women’s insurance premiums going up. Europe says, right, that it’s not okay to discriminate based on gender. Europe says so in a law, and that law comes into force before the end of this year, so women are in for one nasty shock when renewal time comes around. As insurance companies can no longer charge men higher premiums, they won’t simply slash the male premiums to bring them into line with women’s – because of course, they have assessed that high premium to be the rate at which it is viable for them to insure. Instead, women’s premiums will be brought into line with men’s. No statistical reason for it, no upsurge in women accelerating headlong into walls or sudden rise in instances of trying to parallel park while using one hand to do a DIY bikini wax. Women haven’t made themselves any more dangerous on the road, they’ve just lost one of their gender perks.

Is it fair, though? After all, there are perfectly safe male drivers going around the place (at an appropriate speed) who have been paying higher premiums because of their penises for years. Yes, there’s an inequality in that. But gender isn’t the only statistic at play in calculating premiums, and creating a complete profile of yourself will always impact on eventual cost. That is to say, if on the one hand we can’t discriminate based on gender, then how come it’s fine to decide that because there are more road accidents in Thurles or more car thefts in Rathkeale that we can use those statistics when calculating premiums for people who live in those places? You could, after all, live in Rathkeale and never have your car robbed. And you could keep it garaged, immobilised and protected by a rabid dog. The basis of statistical risk indicates that something happens more than an average amount in a specific circumstance. If I am drunk, I am more likely to sing – and also to fall over. If I leave kindling near a naked flame, my house is more likely to go on fire. It is inconceivable that those more likelys are not allowed to be taken into account when it comes to insurance premiums and gender. Sure, a certain set of people who are very safe and buck the trend will be disadvantaged, but those people will go on to drive safely for several years and show themselves to be a good bet for a lower premium. Just like the Rathkeale woman who rings up to point that her car is garaged (and protected by a rabid dog), the 17-year-old boy will become the 25-year-old man with a full no claims bonus.

Gamblers play the odds. They bet on horses who have a track record of winning; they take into account everything from injuries to the weather when weighing up the sides in a football match. They know that factors beyond the individual, while never 100% accurate, have a role to play in figuring out whether it’s worth taking a punt, and how much of a punt to take. Insurance is as much of a gamble as it is a science, and when someone is agreeing to underwrite your driving to the tune of hundreds of thousands while never having met you, then it’s fair and square that they might assess if you’re worth the punt by looking at the closest thing they have to studying the form – statistics.

So, apologies to the menfolk for the higher premiums, but everyone suffers on account of their gender at some point. There are inherent unfairnesses in the world that we can’t legislate our way out of. So maybe, Europe, you could rev up and fuck off.


About the Author

Sinéad Keogh

Sinéad is a striking girl. Not attractive like, just prone to lashing out.

  • Christophe

    Worth to read Tim Harford piece on this as a complement:
    http://timharford.com/2012/10/there-are-many-ways-to-price-by-gender/

  • http://twitter.com/SerialBlogamist Catherine C

    Excellent piece! I’ve been saying this for ages – it’s not discrimination, it’s statistics.
    Also I’ll admit I was momentarily distracted when I came across the word “inconceivable” because I had to inwardly beam at the unintentional Princess Bride reference – God, I love that movie.
    This ‘easily distracted’ business is why I haven’t learned to drive yet.

    I was going to share it on Facebook, but that nice accompanying picture that usually shows up with links didn’t appear so I didn’t. I like pictures with my links. I’m shallow like that.

  • David

    People relax. It’s just a form of community rating. It has
    been used in health insurance for years. Do you think it is fair for someone in
    their twenties to pay as much for health insurance as someone in their fifties?
    Obviously it isn’t, but we are not allowed be ageist (anymore). How is this any
    different?

  • http://twitter.com/sycopat Pat Ryan

    I don’t like the argument. There’s far too much ‘sexism should be okay when it advantages those traditionally disadvantaged by sexism’. Which is bollocks, and it’s the sort of reasoning that has led to characterisations of feminists and feminism as man-hating lesbians.

    Surprise twist: I’m not actually against the idea of men in certain brackets paying more insurance than women, but insurance companies have at the same time certainly been taking the piss and abusing statistics. For instance, the hypothethical 17 year old fella in dublin proposed above, his insurance would be cheaper than same 17 year old in, say, longford, because one of the things they base insurance on is number of accidents per capita, and longford being a lightly populated county county has a larger number of accidents per capita than dublin does.
    Dublin has orders of magnitude more actual accidents of course, but more people live (and don’t necessarily drive) there.

    Also premiums don’t take into account the amount of time spent driving, and although I have no numbers to back this up, I would not be at all surprised if it was the case that the majority of taxi drivers, delivery men, couriors and other professional drivers were male. Not to mention any anecdotes that may be available to me about how much more driving men do than women.

    These by the way are the basis for legitimate, non-gender based reasons for why males fitting certain profiles should pay higher insurance. It’s not because they are male, it’s because there are genuine reasons why they are more likely to have or be involved in an accident than a woman (And none of them are about the skill of the driver. They are hours spent driving and driving in poorer conditions.)

    But hey, insurance companies never gave a shit about that. For years they took the easy way out and lumped all those risk factors together as ‘male’. Then charged all males more because the stats lumped together that way said they could, regardless of whether the males actually did a lot of driving or not.

    Sure it’s statistics, but it’s bad statistics. It’s inaccurate statistics. It’s the type of statistics that goes along with lies and damn lies. The type of statistics that get’s shouted and waved about by people who don’t know much about statistics other than that the numbers in their hand, accurate or not, support the point they are trying to make.

    And that is sexist, and the EU was right to have called them on it.

    Unfortunately the EU didn’t go far enough in forcing the Insurance companies to play fair, they just said what the Insurance companies were doing was sexist and they should stop.

    So the Insurance companies decided to raise womens insurance because the EU has made itself an unwitting scapegoat for the insurance companies to blame (along with apparently, men in general) for being ‘forced’ to raise womens premiums instead of accurately assessing risk and reflecting that appropriately in their quotations.

    But do we want to address this in the article? Address the inappropriateness of the statistics being used to offer genuine reasons for why most women (and some men) should pay less insurance? Attempt to find an actually fair and equal solution? No. We’d rather whinge that our privilege is being taken away.

    Because god for-fucking-bid we have to admit for half a second that maybe the chromosomal arrangement of the squishy biological driver isn’t inherently a huge deal when we’re hurtling around in unnaturally high speed metal boxes powered by explosions.

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