Auto Insurance

New Research Shows That Most Major Auto Insurers Vary Prices Considerably Depending on Marital Status

Higher Rates for Widows Than for Married Women, and Other Marital Price Differences, Raise Questions about the Fairness of Auto Insurer Pricing

CFA Asks State Insurance Departments to Examine Marital Pricing and Remedy Any Unfairness

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) released research on how insurers utilize marital status in their pricing of auto insurance policies.  CFA questions the fairness and relation to risk of this pricing by most major insurers, particularly their practice of hiking rates on women whose husbands die.  In the ten cities studied, four of six major insurers – GEICO, Farmers, Progressive, and Liberty — increased rates on state-mandated liability coverage for widows by an average of 20 percent. The fifth insurer, Nationwide, sometimes increased rates for widows.  The sixth insurer, State Farm, did not vary the rates it charged because of marital status.  All State Farm price quotes for a driver in a city were the same, regardless of whether the driver was single, separated, divorced, widowed, a domestic partner, or married.

Table 1:  Average and Range of Percentage Increases in Annual Premiums in Ten Cities When a Young Woman is Widowed

Average Range
State Farm 0% 0-0%
GEICO 29 0-226
Farmers 22 0-34
Progressive 19 12-25
Nationwide 3 0-14
Liberty 8 4-12
Total 14% 0-226%


“Hiking rates on women whose husbands die seems both unfair and inhumane,” said Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s Executive Director.  “Why don’t insurers instead emphasize driving-related factors such as accidents, traffic violations, and miles driven in their pricing?” he asked.  An earlier national survey of a representative sample of adult Americans, commissioned by CFA, found overwhelming consumer support for insurer emphasis on these driving-related factors in their auto insurance pricing.

The CFA research, undertaken by Brobeck and Michelle Styczynski, utilized quotes from the websites of the auto insurers for the minimum liability insurance required by states.  For each quote in the ten cities, all car, driver, and insurance characteristics were held constant except for marital status.  These characteristics are listed at the end of the news release.

At Most Major Companies, Rates Are Almost Always Higher for Single, Separated, and Divorced Drivers Than For Married Drivers

Farmers, Progressive, Nationwide, and Liberty always charged single, separated, and divorced drivers the same price, and this annual premium was almost always higher than the premium it charged married persons.  GEICO’s premium quotes, though always lower for married drivers, varied unpredictably, with single, separated, and divorced drivers often being charged different prices.

Table 2:  Average and Range of Percentage Increases in Annual Premiums from Married Status to Single/Separated/Divorced Status at Four Major Insurers

Average Range
Farmers 22% 0-34%
Progressive 19 12-25
Nationwide 9 3-14
Liberty 8 4-12


These price differences appear to exist at all age levels.  Most prices collected by CFA were for a 30-year old, safe, female driver.  When her age was increased to 50, the price differences persisted.  “One would like to see any evidence that two 50-year olds with the same characteristics pose considerably different insurer risks because of their marital status,” noted CFA’s Brobeck.

Table 3:  Percentage Increases in Annual Premiums from Married Status to Single Status in Three Sample Cities When the Driver is 50 Years of Age

Louisville Chicago Houston
GEICO 134% 8% 16%
Farmers 28 20 24
Progressive 12 7 6


Auto insurers say that married people deserve lower rates than others because they tend to drive more responsibly.  They, and their advocates, frequently cite a study released in 2004 by the National Institutes of Health showing that single persons had higher driving injury rates than married persons (G. Whitlock, et al, “Motor Vehicle Injury and Marital Status,” Injury Prevention, 10: 33-36).  However, this study, undertaken by several academics, was based on data collected in New Zealand around 1990 involving only 138 injuries, a substantial minority of which involved driving motorcycles.  And the difference in injury rates was only about one percentage point.

“It is significant that single, separated, and divorced persons tend to have lower incomes than those who are married,” noted CFA’s Brobeck.  Insurer use of marital status in their pricing – along with their use of other non-driving factors researched earlier by CFA, including education, occupation, and credit scores – tends to discriminate against low- and moderate-income Americans.

This new research on marital status further supports CFA’s hypothesis that major insurers are not that interested in providing minimum liability coverage, most often purchased by lower income drivers, because dollar profits are so much higher on policies sold drivers who also purchase collision and comprehensive coverage, often on several cars, as well as homeowner insurance.  “The lack of insurer interest in selling competitively-priced auto insurance to lower-income drivers exacts a social high price,” noted J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner.  “Most lower-income drivers need a car to meet transportation needs, yet cannot drive legally without purchasing the liability insurance required by all states except New Hampshire,” he added.

Insurer Treatment of Domestic Partners Varies Greatly

The research revealed no evidence that State Farm, Farmers, Nationwide, and Liberty charge higher premiums to domestic partners than to the married.  However, both Geico and Progressive often charge domestic partners higher rates than the married.  That was the case, for Geico, in Baltimore, Tampa, Louisville, Minneapolis, Denver, and Phoenix.  And it was the case, for Progressive, in Baltimore, Tampa, Louisville, Minneapolis, Houston, Denver, and Phoenix. Maryland and Colorado, along with California and Oregon, offer domestic partnership status.

It is also worth noting that the smallest price differences between single and married premiums, among the ten cities, were in Oakland.  California law requires auto insurers to treat driving record, miles driven, and years experience as “mandatory” and “primary” factors in rate-setting.  Others factors, including marital status, are considered “optional” and cannot have as great an impact on rates.

CFA Calls on State Insurance Departments to Investigate Insurer Use of Marital Status in Auto Insurance Pricing

“The ‘widow penalty’ and other pricing related to marital status provides still another reason for state insurance departments to examine insurer pricing more carefully,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner.  “Auto insurers are increasingly using non-driving factors in this pricing, and it appears that much of this pricing is unrelated to insurer risk,” he added.

“Insurer use of ‘price optimization,’ which a number of insurance departments have recently prohibited, provides further evidence that insurers are using factors related simply to profitability, such as ‘how much the traffic will bear,’ in their pricing,” Hunter noted.  “The result is that not only does insurance pricing become increasing exploitative, but also that lower income and minority drivers are charged the highest prices simply because of their socio-economic characteristics,” he added.

CFA will be sharing the findings of this latest research with all state insurance departments and with the Federal Insurance Office, which is considering the issue of insurance affordability.

The prices in the table below are based on a driver with the following characteristics:

Female 30 years old
Driving since 16
No accidents or moving violations
High school degree
Bank teller
Renter in ZIP code with $30,000 median household income
Drives a 2005 Honda Civic which owns
Has insurance most recently purchased 3 years ago

Contact: Michelle Styczynski, 202-387-6121; J. Robert Hunter, 703-731-6353

CFA is a nonprofit association of more than 250 consumer groups that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.

Appendix: Quoted Annual Premiums from Major Auto Insurers Related to Marital Status

Baltimore, MD State Farm GEICO Farmers Progressive Nationwide Liberty
Single $2274 $1292 $3010 $2098 $1372 $2868
Single with child 2274 N/O N/O N/O N/O N/O
Separated 2274 1292 3010 2098 1372 2868
Divorced 2274 1292 N/O 2098 1372 2868
Widowed 2274 1408 3010 2098 1294 2868
Domestic partner N/O 1292 N/O 2098 N/O 2604
Married 2274 1244 2676 1726 1294 2604


Tampa, FL
Single $1320 $1,978 $2972 $1392 N/A N/A
Single with child 1320 N/O N/O N/O N/A N/A
Separated 1320 2334 2972 1392 N/A N/A
Divorced 1320 1858 2972 1392 N/A N/A
Widowed 1320 2042 2972 1392 N/A N/A
Domestic partner N/O 1987 N/O 1392 N/A N/A
Married 1320 2166 2224 1110 N/A N/A


Louisville, KY
Single $1248 $1518 N/O* $1384 N/A N/A
Single with child 1248 N/O N/O N/O N/A N/A
Separated 1248 1864 2508 1384 N/A N/A
Divorced 1248 1236 2508 1384 N/A N/A
Widowed 1248 1302 2508 1384 N/A N/A
Domestic partner N/O 1518 N/O 1384 N/A N/A
Married 1248 650 1978 1152 N/A N/A

*Quotes are from 21st Century Insurance

Chicago, IL
Single $660 $588 $2026 $524 $852 $1152
Single with child 660 N/O N/O N/O N/O N/O
Separated 660 666 2026 524 852 1152
Divorced 660 640 N/O 524 852 1152
Widowed 660 610 2026 524 852 1152
Domestic partner N/O N/O N/O 524 N/O 1068
Married 660 578 1678 454 746 1068
Civil Union 660 556 1576 454 N/O N/O


Minneapolis, MN
Single $992 $1944 $1618 $642 $1992 $1848
Single with child 992 N/O N/O N/O N/O N/O
Separated 992 1944 1618 642 N/O 1848
Divorced 992 1584 N/O 642 N/O 1848
Widowed 992 1466 1618 642 1862 1848
Domestic partner N/O 1944 N/O 642 N/O 1680
Married 992 894 1314 560 1772 1680


Houston, TX State Farm GEICO Farmers Progressive Nationwide Liberty
Single $1148 $764 $1604 $742 $724 $1692
Single with child 1148 N/O N/O N/O N/O N/O
Separated 1148 890 1604 742 724 1692
Divorced 1148 764 N/O 742 724 1692
Widowed 1148 826 1604 742 660 1692
Domestic partner N/O 764 N/O 742 N/O 1572
Married 1148 660 1304 640 660 1572


Denver, CO
Single $798 $806 $1770 $740 N/A $1140
Single with child 798 N/O N/O N/O N/A N/O
Separated 798 940 1770 740 N/A 1140
Divorced 798 806 N/O 740 N/A 1140
Widowed 798 724 1770 740 N/A 1140
Domestic partner N/O 806 N/O 740 N/A 1092
Married 798 586 1352 596 N/A 1092
Civil Union N/O N/O 1352 N/O N/A 1092


Phoenix, AZ
Single $748 $728 $1722 $662 N/A $1692
Single with child 748 N/O N/O N/O N/A N/O
Separated 748 728 1722 662 N/A 1692
Divorced 748 728 N/O 662 N/A 1692
Widowed 748 730 1722 662 N/A 1692
Domestic partner N/O 728 N/O 662 N/A 1608
Married 748 490 1308 570 N/A 1608


Oakland, CA
Single $636 $478 $778 $550 $774 $1132
Single with child 636 N/O N/O N/O N/O N/O
Separated 636 478 778 550 774 1132
Divorced 636 478 N/O 550 774 1132
Widowed 636 388 778 550 750 1132
Domestic partner 636 388 N/O 490 750 1008
Married 636 388 778 490 750 1008


Portland, OR
Single $1324 $902 $2226 $1482 $1198 $1332
Single with child 1324 N/O N/O N/O N/O N/O
Separated 1324 902 2226 1482 1198 1332
Divorced 1324 902 N/O 1482 1198 1332
Widowed 1324 902 2226 1482 1090 1332
Domestic partner 1324 810 N/O 1218 1090 1224
Married 1324 810 1926 1218 1090 1224


N/O = Marital status not an option

N/A = No price quote available