Do life assurers quote scary statistics to get you to buy their products? Do they particularly quote scary ones about women? Do women need different life cover from the cover men take out?

Messages from life companies around Women’s Day or Month may have you wondering.

Life assurers certainly do highlight scary statistics to jolt us into buying more cover – and often we do need to be scared, because death, disability and severe illness cause huge problems for families that are unprepared and many of us do not have adequate cover.

There are scary statistics about women, but there are equally scary ones about men. The reason for targeting women is that we traditionally have less cover than men.

We expect to be treated as equals, but we are not equals when it comes to protecting our lifestyles or those of our dependants against life’s knocks. While there may be some valid reasons for women to have less life, disability and dread disease cover than men – mainly that many of us are not breadwinners and we generally earn less – these reasons get less valid as the years go by.

Women’s contributions to the household income are often crucial and many women are single breadwinners. Income protection is key for these women, especially those with minor dependants.

Insurance company Hollard Life says industry statistics show that both men and women are dramatically underinsured when it comes to managing the financial impact of a life-changing disability or illness.

While women today are important contributors to household income, there is still a slanted approach to insuring men at higher benefit values than women, Susan Gonnermann, head of claims at Hollard Life, says.

This makes no sense when you consider that women submit twice as many critical illness and disability claims than men, she says.

Nicholas van der Nest, the director of risk product innovation at Liberty, says the cancer statistic that women need to take note of is that the majority of women’s claims are for breast cancer and they are being lodged at much younger ages – between 30 and 50 years – while the bulk of claims for men are for prostrate cancer and are lodged at age 65-plus.

A shocking statistic in the recently released Old Mutual Savings & Investment Monitor is that as many as one in two mothers in South Africa – 48 percent of households – describe themselves as single parents, and only 12 percent of these women receive regular support from the fathers of their children.

Liberty’s claims statistics for 2015 show that 71 percent of claims were paid to men, and only 29 percent to women. Van der Nest says that traditionally men have taken out more cover, both in number of policies and amount of cover. In some cases, men may have insured the lives of their spouses, and more women are taking out policies, but the split between men and women is still way off where it should be, he says.

An encouraging trend, however, is that women are taking out more severe illness and income protection cover than men, who have traditionally taken out more life cover.

This is a good thing because it means women are thinking about protecting their earning ability, but single parents need to consider life cover too.

In an article for Women’s Day, Liberty says households with a stay-at-home mom don’t realise the impact of mom being diagnosed with a critical illness. Who would step into your shoes if you were not able to do the school run, supervise homework or manage the day-to-day activities and your home?

Recruiting someone to help can relieve the burden, but it comes at a price – one that needs to be paid on top of increased medical bills, Liberty says.

Also, a retired or widowed woman may need more critical illness cover than a retired man, because women typically live longer than men, giving them a greater chance of living with a severe illness or dementia.

Hollard Life says its statistics show that the average amount of life cover (at R780 000) and critical illness cover (R320 000) held by women is much lower than that held by men. It says that when you consider the real costs of medical treatment, rehabilitation, lost income and any necessary lifestyle changes, women are still woefully under-insured when it comes to dealing with a serious health crisis.

Do women need gender-specific life cover? Yes and no. Everyone needs protection against the specific risks they face, and women face different risks to men.

Liberty’s statistics show that cancer is the leading cause of claims for both men and women, but one in three claims lodged by women are for cancer, against one in four claims for men.

Cancer claims for women are dominated by breast cancer, followed by colo-rectal cancer, endometrial cancer and skin cancer, Liberty statistics show. Cancer claims lodged by men are dominated by prostate cancer, then skin cancer, colo-rectal cancer and brain cancer.

Discovery Health recently released statistics showing interesting differences in the claiming patterns for income protection of men relative to women: men had much higher claims for musculo-skeletal conditions (43 percent, against 32 percent for women). For men the second highest cause of claims was nervous-system related conditions (11 percent versus six percent for women), while women had much higher claims for mental and behavioural conditions (14 percent, against seven percent for men).