By Tasha Williams, Senior Research Writer and Max Dorfman, Research Writer
Women contribute more earnings to their households and feel more confident about personal finance than prior generations. However, they still face hurdles to taking charge of planning for their financial future and legacy.
Findings from a new report, Lack of Knowledge and Confidence Deter Women from Purchasing Life Insurance, produced by insurance nonprofits LIMRA and Life Happens, indicate a substantial disparity in life insurance purchasing between women and men and perceptions surrounding these products.
Society historically shut women out of their financial affairs.
Women did not have the right to open a bank account in their name before the 1960s. Before the Equal Opportunity Credit Act of 1974, banks refused women credit simply for being unmarried. In cases where women were married, banks required the co-signature of the husband. Until the SCOTUS Kirchberg vs. Feenstra decision in 1981, state laws gave men unfettered control over their wives’ assets–even if these were obtained without combined marital resources.
Women remain underserved by the life insurance industry.
Over the past five years, the life insurance ownership rate for U.S. women declined 10 points to 47 percent, despite women voicing a greater concern regarding the “financial, physical and mental impact of COVID-19 on them and their families,” according to the report. Indeed, 31 percent of women said they would obtain life insurance coverage in 2021, with 42 percent of men saying they would do the same.
Some women in the survey said they had anxiety about being dealt with differently by insurance companies and financial professionals and were uneasy about sharing personal information with an agent or company.
Women still face hurdles to financial planning on equal terms.
The LIMRA study posits that only 22 percent of women “feel very knowledgeable about life insurance,” compared to 39 percent of men, with 80 percent of women misjudging the cost of life insurance. Researchers found this “undermines women’s confidence in shopping for and purchasing coverage and leads to fear of being taken advantage of, creating a barrier to entry.”
Data can play a crucial role in understanding how people make decisions, but it needs context. Other research, for example, indicates that societal norms and biases can affect women’s confidence and their propensity to engage in subjects from which they have been historically excluded. Vestiges of the past continue to sustain inequalities:
- Biases about who is and who isn’t entitled to be confident about financial matters;
- Gender pay gaps, with even larger disparities for women of color; and
- Skewed distribution of unpaid – yet extremely valuable – family caregiving and household labor.
When combined with the status of being an equal or primary earner for their household, these hurdles can be amplified as women may consequently have less time to devote to increasing their knowledge and use of financial planning tools, such as insurance.
Barriers are falling, but there’s opportunity in doing more.
Throughout history, women have played a significant role in the economy at large and within their families, regardless of whether their contributions were compensated or recognized. Today, lifestyle choices, a divorce, or the death of a partner may position nine out ten women as the sole financial decision-maker in their households. The 2021 Insurance Barometer Study, also conducted by Life Happens and LIMRA, found that 43 percent of women say they need or will need more coverage – a total of 56 million individuals.
Market opportunity lies in engaging women where they are. Increasing consumer education and accommodating gender-diverse life cycle needs and the associated risks can make this happen. Women represent nearly 60 percent of insurance professionals, but only one in 10 hold leadership positions, roles that drive industry transformation. Pushing ahead with diversity and inclusion goals can lay the groundwork for more innovation and equality.