New Delhi: It’s an Indian woman’s life, and less likely to be protected by insurance cover.
Data collected by Mint shows that women constitute 20-30% of total lives covered by the country’s life insurers, including Life Insurance Corp. of India, or LIC, the largest insurer by premium collected.
There are many reasons put forward to explain why such a gender gap exists, from the fact that many Indian women are home-bound to their relatively low exposure to risks. “Indian society doesn’t recognize the value of a woman. Importance is not given to a woman unless she is earning and therefore, when the question comes up for insurance, it is very difficult to get women insured,” said S.B. Mathur, secretary general of Life Insurance Council, an umbrella body. “In group insurance schemes, however, the coverage of women is higher because the government pays the premium and they automatically get covered.”
According to the 2001 census, there are 933 women per 1,000 males in India—48% of India’s billion-plus population. In comparison, women had a lower weightage in a life insurance market of Rs2.2 trillion, or 4.4% of gross domestic product, at the end of March.
“In LIC, around 28% of total lives covered are women,” said a senior official of LIC, who didn’t want to be identified because he is not allowed to talk to media. “The figures have risen recently after women in metro cities started working, otherwise around five years back, the percentage was as low as 18-19%. Insurance penetration among women is not sufficient in India.”
Coverage is low with private insurers, too. “Around 24% of our customers are women,” said Gaurang Shah, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Old Mutual Life Insurance Co. Ltd. “Women do not come out so often, resulting in low penetration.”
Rajiv Jamkhedkar, chief executive of Aegon Religare Life Insurance Co. Ltd, says, “Insurance coverage of women is relatively on the lower side...because financial matters are still decided by male members of the family. Currently, around 18% of total lives insured with us are women.”
“Around one third of our customers are women and this number has shown increasing trend over last few years,” said Debashis Sarkar, director, marketing, products and corporate affairs, with Max New York Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
LIC also offers Jeevan Bharati I, a policy designed for women, but there are few takers. “The response to Jeevan Bharati I is not quite encouraging,” said another LIC official. “We have sold around 1 lakh policies so far.” LIC now manages around 23 crore policies.
Jeevan Bharati is an insurance policy exclusively for women, and has a combination of endowment and mediclaim policies. Certain women-specific problems such as some critical illnesses are covered only under this policy.
“Women do not take only women-specific policies, they take other policies, too,” said LIC managing director Thomas Mathew T. “We have 17 lakh self-help groups covering women. We are also planning to launch several women-specific policies in future.”
LIC has a few group policies especially designed for women, such as Aanganwadi Karyakarti Bima Yojana and Janashree Bima Yojana (with add-on benefits for women). The latest report by a parliamentary committee on empowerment of women, which was presented in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha late last year, stated that “the response of intended beneficiaries to these schemes is far from promising”. The report says the committee feels that either there is something amiss with the conceptualization of the scheme, or the government has not taken adequate measures to reach the targeted beneficiaries.
The report says there has been a decrease in the coverage of women under Janashree Bima Yojana, from 5,93,324 in 2004-05 to 4,78,050 in 2005-06. “Janashree Bima Yojana is meant for a head of the family, so insurance coverage for women is very low under the scheme,” said an official in charge of group business, who didn’t want to be identified because he is not allowed to talk to the media.