If you drive a car, you probably already know that your driving record affects the amount you pay for auto insurance. But what you might not realize is that that price you pay can be greatly affected by purely demographic information — like your zip code.
A landmark 2015 study by the Consumer Federation of America showed that a good driver living in a primarily black neighborhood was likely to be charged 70% more than a similar driver in a white neighborhood. This effect was seen even after accounting for population density and income levels. The reason, according to the insurance industry, was risk, meaning that the number of claims and their cost drive up insurance in those neighborhoods, even for motorists who have never been involved in a collision.
Now a new, first of its kind analysis by our colleagues at Consumer Reports and ProPublica has shown that some insurers charge, on average, higher liability premiums in predominantly minority zip codes than in similarly risky non-minority zip codes. In some cases, ProPublica and CR say that major insurers were charging premiums that were on average 30 percent higher in zip codes where most residents are minorities than in whiter neighborhoods with similar accident costs.
The analysis looked at public and private data on auto insurance risk and rates as well as the algorithms used to set prices in different states. Just as it did in 2015, the insurance industry is disputing these findings, citing the fact that insurers do not collect information on race or ethnicity, and therefore cannot include that data in pricing models.
“Insurance companies do not collect any information regarding the race or ethnicity of the people they sell policies to. They do not discriminate on the basis of race,” James Lynch, chief actuary of the Insurance Information Institute, told ProPublica.
Even so, the presence of disparities in pricing that cannot be explained by average risk is important, and troubling.