Gendered Finance? Comparing Insurance Organizations

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Vera LINKE, Bielefeld University, Germany
Sociological studies of insurance interpret the actuarial practice of classifying risk according to people’s gender as an implementation of economic ideology. Their research is based on empirical material that relates to commercial insurance providers while neglecting other types of insurance – mutual societies, government annuity plans, social insurance. Historical studies, however, alert us to the fact that these forms of collective risk sharing traditionally also make actuarial use of gender categories – albeit in ways that so far have not been accounted for as part of a financial service. This contribution explores the relevance of gender distinctions for different forms of insurance. It does so by examining the problems that insurance offices attempt to solve when they apply gender categories.

Conceptually, I understand all types of modern insurance relations as organizations. Nevertheless, these organizations operate under different social conditions. Instead of focusing on one form of insurance (commercial offices) and seeing its use of gender categories in the light of one highly specific organizational problem (price differentiation) and its accompanying set of institutional rules (economic ideology), I compare three types of insurance organizations (mutual, social and commercial insurance). This allows for more general statements about how the financial service of insurance organizationally relates to broader social institutions.

Using examples from various insurance schemes in Europe, I demonstrate that gender categories serve – or in some cases: served – to A) predict costs (commercial, mutual and social insurance); B) determine who could be selected as members and who would categorically be excluded (commercial and mutual insurance); and to C) construct and justify price differentials between members (commercial and mutual insurance). To grasp insurance in its social dimension, we need to explore the organizational problems that insurance offices need to solve as well as compare the solutions they come up with.