For Motorists, Gender Inequality Works Both Ways


Anyone who believes that gender discrimination is no longer an issue in this post-feminist era has not really been paying attention. In many ways, men and women have yet to achieve total parity despite reform efforts in recent years. Consider, for example, the differing experiences of male and female drivers. Granted, this is not an area that is explored very often these days when the subject of gender inequality comes up. But men and women are often treated differently by various industries that serve drivers.

Women pay more for repairs

Though it is hoped that we are long past the days of lame jokes about incompetent women drivers, women are still generally perceived as being less savvy than their male peers regarding the workings of the car. In truth there are many women who are quite competent under the bonnet, and many men who wouldn’t know a differential from a distributor cap, but the stereotypes persist. Perhaps this is why, on average, UK garages charge women £45 more for car repairs than they charge men for equivalent repairs.

That’s according to research by online car repair marketplace ClickMechanic, which examined independent car garages across the UK and uncovered the fact that a standard repair costing a man £571 will typically cost a woman £616: an increase of eight per cent. As part of the investigation, the study had male and female mystery shoppers visit 182 garages across ten UK cities to get an estimate for replacing the clutch of a 2011 Ford Focus.

Surprisingly, eight out of the ten cities charged women what can only be described as a “female premium.” A mere 6% of the garages surveyed offered a consistent price quote to both male and female customers. Andrew Jervis, CEO of ClickMechanic, hastened to say that the vast majority of mechanics strive to provide reliable and honest quotes. But, he added, the results of the study indicated that there is a “worrying minority” of garages that are not so honest. He added, “There is a desperate need across the industry for transparency and consistency in price in order to establish trust with consumers of both sexes.”

Men pay more for car insurance

But it’s not totally a “man’s world” when it comes to the motorist experience. One expert found that men are still generally paying more for car insurance than are women. This is despite the strict gender equality laws issued by the European Union, according to prominent Newcastle University economist Stephen McDonald.

How can insurers get away with charging higher premiums to men? Dr. McDonald says his study results indicate that the insurance companies do this indirectly, by basing premiums on a person’s occupation. He reached this conclusion after examining six professions: two male dominated (civil engineers and plasterers); two female-dominated (dental nurses and social workers); and two gender-neutral (solicitors and leisure assistants). Collecting insurance price data from Confused.com, a price comparison web site, he found that in the majority of cases, drivers in their 20s, 30s and 40s paid cheaper premiums if they had a female-dominated job than if they were in one of the male-dominated industries.

There was one notable exception: social workers. Although females dominate this profession, the assumption seems to be that they will make house visits in rough neighbourhoods. Hence the higher premiums.

The bottom line is that even though price discrimination by gender is illegal under the laws passed in late 2012, insurers can still legally charge different prices to people in different professions, as some jobs are inherently more risky than others. Dr. McDonald claims that because some occupations are held mostly by either men or women, this “leaves open the possibility that direct gender discrimination be replaced by an indirect one, on the basis of occupation or even car type.”

An informed consumer is a powerful consumer

Unfortunately, gender discrimination as well as racial discrimination may always exist in some form, with the hopelessly biased finding clever new ways to skirt equality laws. And in some cases, as in the insurance example cited above, the law allows what are effectively discriminatory practises because they are based upon risk assessments that are theoretically unrelated to gender.

In other cases, however, consumer education can be the key to preventing discrimination. A woman who is cognizant of gender disparity in car repair costs can politely confront the mechanic who gives her the estimate and ask point-blank if this is the same price he would charge a man for the same repair. She may not get an honest answer, but at least she will have put the mechanic on notice that she is not going to accept an estimate without questioning it. Perhaps she can haggle.

And regarding that insurance issue: gender disparity aside, car insurance is something all drivers need, and here again the informed consumer has an edge. There are literally hundreds of insurance options available, so shop around carefully and educate yourself about those options. It has often been said that knowledge is power, and this is particularly true for motorists, no matter what their gender.



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