Gendered Market Devices: The Persistence of Gender Discrimination in Insurance Markets
Greta Krippner, University of Michigan
The insurance industry presents a striking anomaly in the post-civil rights era in American life: across most lines of insurance, men and women can expect to pay different prices for access to coverage, or receive substantially different benefits when they purchase a policy. This paper explores the reasons for the puzzling persistence of formal discrimination in insurance markets long after the use of gender classifications has been banned in institutional domains from employment to housing to credit. Drawing on a historical analysis of political contestation surrounding insurers’ pricing practices in auto and life insurance markets in the 1980s and 1990s, I argue that insurers’ persistent discrimination can be explained by attending to the way in which gender comes to be embedded in the tools used to price risk. This analysis has implications for understanding how social difference can be understood not simply as providing a context for market behavior, but as built into the infrastructure of the economy itself, a durable part of the apparatus used to price and value.
Greta R. Krippner is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan. Her work is primarily historical in orientation and her substantive interests intersect economic sociology, political sociology, the sociology of law, and social theory. Her first book, Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance (Harvard University Press, 2011), examined the financialization of the U.S. economy in the period since the 1970s, arguing that the turn to finance was an inadvertent response to unresolved distributional dilemmas as post-war growth stalled. Her current book project traces the long history of the individualization of risk in American society, asking how the notion that each individual should “bear the cost” of her own riskiness emerged as a widely accepted normative principle governing how risk is distributed.
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