More independent women taking out insurance

January 15th, 2011 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Every three years the Japan Institute for Life Insurance (Seimei Hoken Bunka Sentaa) conducts a survey to measure trends in the insurance market. Last year the institute quizzed more than 4,000 people and for the first time since the survey started in 1987 the percentage of women who say they have taken out insurance policies exceeded the percentage of men who said they have. The margin may seem negligible — 81. 4 percent to 79.9 percent — but in 1987 the rate for men was 84.9 percent and that for women was 71.2 percent, so at the very least there’s been a sizable increase in the female insurance market.

Insurance in this case is the personal kind, meaning life insurance, annunities and supplemental health insurance, all of which are related to long-term individual financial planning. The drop in insurance policy rates for men is attributable to several factors, concludes the institute, the main one being that men are marrying later (if at all) and thus putting off insurance purchases, in particular life insurance with death benefits. Certainly the main reason for the rise of insurance purchases among women is due to the increasing participation of women in the permanent workforce. Insurance companies have not neglected this trend and have duly developed products that target women, including supplemental health insurance covering illnesses that specifically affect women, such as breast cancer. Despite the fact that Japan’s national insurance program pays for cancer treatment and necessary hospital stays, women seem particularly interested in supplemental cancer insurance, not so much because they can upgrade to a better hospital care (which is the more traditional reason for buying it) but because such extra money, usually from ¥5,000 to ¥10,000 a day, helps alleviate the loss of income that often accompanies such treatment.

The institute doesn’t analyze their results to this extent, but it seems obvious that the women taking out these policies are single and thus financially dependent on no one but themselves. For instance, few seem to be actually taking out life insurance with death benefits. But as with suppliemental health insurance, one kind of policy that is quickly gaining popularity among this demographic is wage insurance (kyuryo hoken). Such insurance gives policy holders guaranteed income for limited periods of time when they cannot work due to illness or accident or reasons of an unforeseeable nature.

Hitachi Capital offers a policy that provides ¥100,000 a month for up to five years (and whose promos feature a salarywoman not a salaryman), while American Home Direct pays ¥120,000 a month for up to a year. The insurance provider AXA has a policy that combines cancer insurance with income insurance (shunyu hoken) and aims it squarely at women, as illustrated by the company’s TV commercial, which shows the famous model An (daughter of actor Ken Watanabe) playing an office worker facing her supervisor and forcefully telling him that she’s taking time off to fight her cancer. On its website AXA claims that two-thirds of working women who have cancer report that their income dropped after they were diagnosed, and elsewhere in the media a commonly cited, though somewhat misleading, statistic says that half of all Japanese will be diagnosed with cancer sometime in their lives.

Because Japanese people don’t trust the government and aren’t assured by public welfare policies, they comprise one of the most lucrative life insurance markets in the world. And since women have traditionally been marginalized in terms of employment, they may feel more of a need to assure for themselves a future that isn’t assured at all.

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