The European Court of Justice ruled today that it is illegal for the insurance industry to use of gender to determine risk.
It contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which requires that wherever possible, each gender should be treated equally in order to prevent discrimination. The result of this attempt to mandate equal rights has led to the bizarre situation of the Court being forced to rule that an industry which distributes the cost of insuring risk according to the eminently fair principle of riskier individuals bearing more of the cost, can no longer do so.
And I doubt that anyone really expects the outcome of this to be that men’s car insurance premiums will fall by more than a token amount. Instead, the more likely outcome is that women’s rates will increase instead, making the population as a whole a lot worse off. The impact on the wider insurance industry will affect pension annuities too: men generally get higher rates because statistically they are likely to die before women. Now both sexes will get something closer to the lower female rate.
This ruling is a beautifully accessible example of the difference between equality and fairness.
Treating everyone equally – assuming that just because they are all human beings, they all deserve the same treatment – is fundamentally unfair. People are not equal. Fairness and justice should be about equitable outcomes, not equal ones. Confusing these concepts leadings to well-meaning but ultimately self-defeating creations like the ECHR that do a disservice to the population they are meant to protect.
Individual variation resulting in inequality and differential outcomes is not something to be feared. Fairness demands that our society is freely able to distribute its bounty equitably – albeit unequally – between individuals.
Now, preventing discrimination is vitally important. But stopping discrimination is about preventing inequitable outcomes to individuals because of their group membership, not to prioritise the group membership over the individual, which is what the ECHR does.
The Court had no alternative but to rule the way it did, because the ECHR is deliberately phrased to emphasise the gender identity sub-group rather than considering humanity as comprising a mass of individuals who just happen to fall into various sub-groups.
Membership of a sub-group should never lead to inequitable outcomes; gender (or religion, race, sexuality, and so on) should never be used as a reason to inhibit rewards to a particular individual. But membership of a sub-group should never be used a reason to mandate equal outcomes with other sub-groups.
The way to avoid this is to bypass the importance of sub-group membership altogether: value the individual instead.
- This insurance ruling trivialises human rights | Stephen Booth (guardian.co.uk)
- EU court bans insurance sex discrimination (foxnews.com)
- Gender case hits insurance costs (bbc.co.uk)
- “UK insurers face “large-scale adjustments” over ECJ gender ruling” and related posts (insurancedaily.co.uk)