Friends for Life
Studies consistently indicate that those who engage in social activities have less mortality risk and that social isolation and loneliness increase that risk.
- Hilary Henly
- December 2018
Underwriters, claims assessors and pricing actuaries are all too familiar with traditional mortality and morbidity risks such as raised blood pressure, obesity and high alcohol consumption. Loneliness and social isolation, although less well known, are clearly of relevance as well.
Fact: Adults who have stronger social networks live longer.
Current research shows that the long-term health impact of loneliness and social isolation will likely be comparable to that of obesity (a crisis predicted three decades ago), and poor social engagement's health impact comparable to that of excess drinking and smoking.
Clearly these are very important considerations in underwriting, yet because loneliness and social engagement are difficult to quantify, they are not currently used in traditional insurance underwriting.
Social isolation differs from loneliness in that a socially isolated person generally lives alone and has little or no contact with others. Loneliness is generally described as a person's perception of his or her relationships to others as well as a lack of connection to others.
Being lonely can influence dietary intake, smoking habits and alcohol consumption.
A large meta-analysis examining loneliness and social isolation as mortality risk factors showed that the increased likelihood of death was 26% for loneliness, 29% for social isolation and 32% for living alone.
Some studies have even shown that the risk is even greater than that of obesity. An analysis of data from a U.K. Biobank cohort study showed a 73% increased all-cause mortality for social isolation. Socially isolated people were also found to have double the risk of death from neoplasms (the abnormal growth of tissue that can become a tumor.)
Conversely, those who report higher enjoyment of life have fewer diagnoses of coronary heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke and chronic lung disease, have better mobility and fewer impaired activities of daily living. These facts are hard for insurers to ignore.
The increasing amount of time individuals spend on social media is reducing how much they would otherwise spend socializing face-to-face and engaging physically in athletic or social activities.
A meta-analytic review by Holt-Lunstad et al. in 2010 concluded that the health effect of having adequate social networks is comparable to that of stopping smoking, and the impact of a lack thereof exceeds risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.
Indeed, leisure-time physical activity has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and all-cause mortality and is directly correlated to a lower risk of 13 different cancers, including bowel, bladder and breast cancers.
Underwriters, claims assessors and pricing actuaries are all too familiar with traditional mortality and morbidity risks that can include conditions like raised blood pressure, obesity and high alcohol consumption.
Loneliness and social isolation, although less well known, are clearly of relevance as well.
Can insurers incorporate them into the risk assessment process, given that they are usually self-reported and difficult to quantify?
It is worrisome that the mortality and morbidity risks from social isolation and lack of social engagement are shown to be higher than from obesity, smoking and excess alcohol.
Finally, is the risk assessment process missing other vital factors not currently used as part of the application process?
Perhaps now is the time to consider nontraditional risk factors in modern day insurance underwriting.
Best’s Review contributor Hilary Henly is director of divisional underwriting research and head of underwriting (Ireland), RGA International Reinsurance Company dac. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.