Today is a landmark in gender equality – but of a kind that may not be entirely welcome to women. An EU ruling that forces Britain's insurance companies to stop charging men and women different prices is now law. And that means that women drivers – whose safer record behind the wheel than their male counterparts has benefited them for so long – will almost certainly see their premiums rise.
It is not yet clear how the post-ruling insurance landscape will arrange itself. But it was always naive to hope for a halfway house, whereby men's premiums fell as much as women's premiums rose. Indeed, the Treasury has estimated that for younger women drivers, prices could rise by 24 per cent. It is this age group where the discrepancy in the safety record between male drivers and female drivers is most marked.
Department of Transport figures for 2011 show that male drivers under the age of 25 were involved in 25,000 accidents – 10,000 more than women of the same age. So on the face of it, charging women drivers the same premium is both unnecessary and unjustified. Likewise with life insurance, where, with longer life expectancy, get better deals.
There is, however, a bigger principle to consider. For gender equality to mean anything, it must surely cut both ways, and the battles that are still to be won over educational opportunities, career prospects, and equal pay can be fought more effectively if all instances of generalised preferential treatment are consigned to history.
More individual pricing must be the way ahead for the insurance industry, so that people are judged on their own records not just on where they stand demographically. Increased competition is already playing its part in keeping prices in check, and it may yet be that the financial pain inflicted on both men and women is not as bad as everyone fears. But whatever it amounts to, it is right that it is shared equally.