Ensuring an Underclass: Stigma in Insurance

58 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2019 Last revised: 29 Jun 2023

See all articles by Valarie Blake

Valarie Blake

West Virginia University - College of Law

Date Written: May 29, 2019


In our country, access to insurance can be a matter of life and death, as well as financial security. Despite these great stakes, the ability to get affordable insurance is often influenced by social factors like sexual orientation, age, gender, and race. Insurers defend these practices, and regulators frequently agree, on the basis of actuarial fairness. That is, some groups are costlier to insure and others shouldn’t have to offset their expenses. This article advances a stigma-based critique to challenge this conception of lawful discrimination and fairness in insurance. The sociological stigma literature tells us that it is a natural social tendency to seek out differences, stereotype, and create underclasses who enjoy less social standing and experience structural and individual discrimination. Applying stigma theory to insurance, actuarial fairness is undermined. Of course some people will be costlier to insure, but we may be incapable of determining this in an unbiased way. Far from being ensconced in scientific objectivity, insurance is influenced by subjective social constructsin ways that produce unfair harms for insurance underclasses. Insurance should be regulated to address and minimize these harms.

Keywords: insurance, social insurance, stigma, health insurance

Suggested Citation

Blake, Valarie, Ensuring an Underclass: Stigma in Insurance (May 29, 2019). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 41, Forthcoming , WVU College of Law Research Paper No. 2019-019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3396113

Valarie Blake (Contact Author)

West Virginia University - College of Law ( email )

101 Law School Drive
Morgantown, WV West Virginia 26506
United States

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