Sunday, July 4, 2004
pushed to consider unmarried couples
The "Value Judgments" column published
today in the Chicago Tribune focuses on the rising number of unmarried
heterosexual couples and how insurance companies are beginning to respond
to this trend.
Here is what columnist Janet Kidd Stewart
had to say.
Pamela Lukas and Chris
Grijalva celebrated 20 years of unwedded bliss recently. Long ago, the
Irvine, Calif., couple decided that while they love each other deeply,
they didn't want children and didn't want to commingle their finances.
They don't even share a joint checking account for household expenses. He
takes care of the groceries, she pays the homeowner's insurance, and they
both pay into the mortgage.
Though the social stigma of living together outside of marriage has faded,
Lukas, 50, says the financial toll remains.
"I regret that I can't put him on my medical insurance at work," she said
of Grijalva, a self-employed computer consultant who has to buy his own
insurance. "I've been living with him longer than my co-workers have been
married, and they're all on the company plan."
Still, the risk manager for a restaurant chain has done the math and
continues to choose independence.
"I wanted to have my own financial base," she said.
At the same time, millions of same-sex couples are fighting a legislative
war to be allowed to do exactly what Lukas and Grijalva have shunned all
"The movement for gay marriage has been the biggest advertisement for
marriage in years," said Arlene Skolnick, author of several books on how
social and economic change affects family life. "It's simply equal access
that they want."
The debate has some potentially huge ramifications as we whittle away the
relative financial advantages of the traditional family.
Think about it. Sure, there's the marriage tax penalty. But there have
been plenty of big financial advantages to tying the knot.
Now more single people are buying homes and getting those juicy tax
deductions--once largely the domain of the nuclear family. More employers
are introducing domestic-partner benefits to attract the best and
brightest, even as some of their legal teams scramble to figure out what
they'll do about new state laws defining marriage as only between a man
and a woman.
In San Francisco, an Internet-based insurance company is pushing the
envelope on marketing to non-traditional families. Esurance (www.esurance.com)
will write car insurance policies that offer multicar discounts to any
qualifying group of people who share a garage--whether they are lifelong
partners, an elderly parent living with an adult child, or college
"Pressure has been building on [government] insurance departments to more
and more accommodate non-traditional families," said Robin Olson, senior
research analyst for the International Risk Management Institute Inc., an
industry association. Olson said such policies could have potentially
negative underwriting outcomes and lead to higher premiums for all
Not so, company officials said. Esurance executives say they can offer
attractive prices to non-traditional families because their research
showed a big predictor of a profitable customer (defined as one who makes
few claims and pays premiums on time) was the simple act of insuring more
than one car.
Of course, the proof will come in whether or not the larger insurance
firms and bank underwriters begin to follow suit.
"Companies will be forced to look at non-traditional families because
that's where the business is," Lukas said.
For her part, Skolnick doesn't believe the decline of the financial
advantage for traditional married couples will bring back the communes of
a generation ago.
"Marriage is going through a transition because of the cultural changes,"
she said. "But the old values will likely get assimilated. We tried
communes, and they didn't work."