Insurance and Society When We’re Deliberately Less Accurate


As the notion of gender fluidity floods the public square, anecdotes such as that which John Hinderaker shares on PowerLine are sure to proliferate.

A young Canadian man discovered that he would save over $1,000 a year on car insurance if he were instead a young Canadian woman.  A simple request to his doctor produced a note that, with some forms, produced a new birth certificate, which in turn entitled him to lower car insurance.  Writes Hinderaker: “In my view, it highlights the absurdity of the concepts of gender ‘identification’ and ‘assignment.'”  To be more specific, it highlights the recklessness of assuming that all distinctions are arbitrary.

Back when same-sex marriage was still a fringe area of conversation, I noted that these sorts of things were inevitable.  Still in my 20s and not religious, at the time, I could easily imagine going through the process of a domestic partnership — or even a marriage — in order to help out a friend in need of, say, health insurance.  Indeed, it wasn’t long until Adam Sandler and Kevin James made a movie with a very similar premise.  Prenuptial agreements could safeguard what little property we had; divorce is easy these days; and the social cost of the charade would be almost non-existent.

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Responses to my health insurance example, as well as the plot of I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, included an assumption that these actions would be fraud and that people engaging in them would have to go to great lengths to hide the dishonesty, but any such social concern would obviously be a vestige of the very tradition that was being erased.  If the ability to have children is not key to the definition of marriage, then why must sexual intimacy be?  And if intimacy is not, then how can one minimize the feelings of a person who cares enough about a friend to share health insurance?

Similarly, if one’s gender has no externally identifiable characteristic other than the person’s subjective assertion, then who can tell that young Canadian that he cannot define being female as being the sort of person who deserves lower car insurance?  He doesn’t feel like it ought to cost that much to insure him.

Maybe in past decades one could at least expect that people considering these on-paper changes would have to weigh the downsides, but it isn’t clear what the down side of being labeled as female rather than male might be.  Indeed, legislators have been pro-active in making it illegal to disadvantage females in any way, as with health insurance, and as doctors and other service providers learn that the sex listed on a paper does not actually correspond with biology, they’ll check a patient’s biological sex before making decisions.  Laws making one’s sex on birth certificates unreliable don’t change how a doctor assesses his or her patient; they just create barriers to accurate assessment.

In insurance, there is a value to knowing somebody’s actual sex, because it costs more to insure young men against accidents, and it costs more to insure women’s health.  Laws forbidding us from acting on that knowledge do not change the underlying reality; they just make insurance less accurate.