Abstract: Exploring the Mechanisms of Gender Discrimination: Swedish Mutual Health Insurance, 1901-1910

Lars Fredrik Andersson


In this paper we explore the underlying factors behind gender discrimination in Swedish health insurance societies during the period 1901 and 1910, a period where health insurance was voluntary and organized along mutual principles. In previous research, mutual societies have been recognized for their ability to mitigate informational asymmetries. Although efficient, many societies excluded women as a rule, and the exclusion practices of mutual societies involved a remarkably unequal access to health insurance. To trace the mechanisms of gender discrimination, we employ a panel of Swedish health insurance societies across the country. The study shows that mechanisms applied to exclude women did not provide higher efficiency in underwriting risks, although the supposedly high sickness frequency of women often was put forward by societies to justify discrimination. Additionally, efforts to mitigate moral hazard, the monitoring of members through social ties and social pressure, could also be generated successfully in gendered-mixed societies. The results show that the excluding mechanisms were rather a result of power relations between men and women and socially constructed perceptions regarding the role of women and men in society.