Ending Jim Crow Life Insurance Rates

Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy, Vol. 4, p. 360, 2009

40 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2009 Last revised: 22 Oct 2009

See all articles by Mary L. Heen

Mary L. Heen

University of Richmond - School of Law

Date Written: October 15, 2009


This article tells the story of the rise and fall of explicit race-based pricing practices as American life insurance companies responded to changes in the social, economic, and legal status of former slaves and their descendants. The role of law in that story, from the Civil War to the beginning of this century, illustrates the complex interaction between civil rights reform and private commercial markets. Despite early laws prohibiting race-based life insurance rates, they persisted in various forms for over a century due to the strength of the underlying racial ideologies, the rhetorical power of actuarial language, and the structure and regulation of insurance markets. Life insurance companies reinforced prevailing American assumptions about race by adopting explicit race-based pricing categories after Reconstruction, and later, by prospectively abandoning them beginning after World War II. Earlier this century, regulatory investigations and litigation under post-Civil War federal civil rights statutes brought relief to those harmed by the continuing effects of dual rate structures in race-segmented markets. Civil rights law thus served primarily as prologue, by provoking company adaptation, and as epilogue, by providing retrospective relief, to the central story of that transformation.

Keywords: civil rights law, race discrimination, life insurance pricing, mortality rates, scientific racism, economic history

JEL Classification: N00, J71, J78

Suggested Citation

Heen, Mary L., Ending Jim Crow Life Insurance Rates (October 15, 2009). Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy, Vol. 4, p. 360, 2009 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1491264

Mary L. Heen (Contact Author)

University of Richmond - School of Law ( email )

28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA 23173
United States
804-289-8528 (Phone)
804-289-8683 (Fax)

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