Top marriage states lag in life insurance

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Love and marriage go together, as you’ve probably heard. But what about life insurance? Isn’t that part of the picture, too, when two people love each other “till death do us part”?

How to buy life insurance

Maybe not always. You buy life insurance to lessen the financial blow to those you love in case you die, so it might seem reasonable to expect that policies would be most popular where people are most likely to proclaim their everlasting love by saying “I do.” But Bankrate found that when you compare the latest insurance industry statistics with U.S. Census data on marriage, it turns out that the top states for tying the knot are not the top states for life insurance.

States such as Utah, with the highest percentages of married people, appear to have some coverage catching up to do with states such as Alabama, where life insurance is far more common. Valentine’s Day might be the perfect time to take out a new policy, says Stephen Rothschild, chairman of the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education.

“The only reason to purchase life insurance is because you love someone,” he says. “It seems a lot less superfluous and much more lasting than a box of chocolates or a dozen roses.”

Where marriage thrives, insurance trails

Virginia might be for lovers, but Utah is for vow-takers. The latest U.S. Census estimate shows that 57 percent of Utah residents age 15 or older are married, more than in any other state — which is likely to surprise no one.

The state’s heavy influence from the Mormon church, with its emphasis on strong families, is one of the most plausible explanations for the rampant matrimony. But the ratio of life insurance policies-to-population is among the lowest in the country, at 38.5 percent. The state’s 2.03 million residents owned 783,000 individual life insurance policies in 2011, according to recently released data from the American Council of Life Insurers.

5 states with highest marriage rates

State Now married (except separated) Population (age 15 and older) Life insurance policies in force Policies-to-population ratio Life insurance rank*
1. Utah 57.0% 2,031,834 783,000 38.5% 45
2. Idaho 56.5% 1,211,982 500,000 41.3% 43
3. Wyoming 55.4% 450,165 225,000 50.0% 36
4. Iowa 53.9% 2,446,834 1,910,000 78.1% 7
5. Nebraska 53.7% 1,446,043 1,098,000 75.9% 10
*How the state’s policies-to-population ratio ranks among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau 2009-2011 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates; American Council of Life Insurers Fact Book 2012.

Idaho is a distant but comfortable second as a Mormon bastion and is a close second for marriage, with a rate of 56.5 percent. But life insurance doesn’t fare much better there, with a policies-to-population ratio of 41.3 percent. Like Utah, that puts Idaho in the bottom 10 states for life insurance. Wyoming, with the third-largest concentration of Mormons, has the third-highest marriage rate but also lags for insurance.

The findings surprise Steve Miller, owner of the Steve Miller Agency, an insurance and financial services agency in Provo, Utah.

“The (Mormon) church has long emphasized the importance of life insurance in (its) teachings and encouragement of provident living and self-reliance,” he says, adding that he was unaware of the “intriguing” disparity.

Besides having the highest marriage rates, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming also are the states with the youngest median ages at which women first marry: 23.2 years in Idaho, 23.3 years in Utah and 24.2 years in Wyoming, according to the Population Reference Bureau. That may contribute to the lower acceptance of life insurance.

“Life insurance is not going to be a big priority while you’re young and tight on resources,” observes Julie Hanks, an author and the owner of Wasatch Family Therapy in Salt Lake City. “Those are things like rent, food and tuition.”

But Rothschild warns that when life insurance becomes a casualty of financial trade-offs, you risk leaving family members struggling if they were to lose you.

“That means being forced to work and using what assets you do have to try and maintain their standard of living,” he says. “If your assets run out, then your family is dependent on friends or charity.”

The South leads for life insurance

Where do you tend to find the states at the other end of the spectrum for life insurance: the states where policies are most popular? Just head south.

Alabama leads the nation, with 5.33 million life insurance policies spread among a population of 3.85 million, for a coverage ratio of nearly 140 percent, according to the American Council of Life Insurers and census data.

5 states with the highest life insurance rates

State Policies-to-population ratio Life insurance policies in force Population (age 15 and older) Now married (except separated) Marriage rank*
1. Alabama 138.5% 5,332,000 3,849,512 49.1% 32
2. Louisiana 110.0% 3,971,000 3,609,322 45.2% 48
3. Mississippi 86.7% 2,031,000 2,342,430 46.1% 47
4. South Carolina 86.1% 3,218,000 3,739,532 48.2% 39
5. District of Columbia 79.7% 414,000 519,127 25.3% 51
*How the state’s “now married” percentage ranks among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau 2009-2011 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates; American Council of Life Insurers Fact Book 2012.

Behind Alabama are its Southern neighbors Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

One reason there are so many life insurance policies in the South is that so-called industrial life insurance products likely remained popular in that region longer than in other parts of the country, says Jack Dolan, a spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurers. Industrial policies, also known as “burial policies,” were plans with a smaller face value that were frequently sold door to door and were meant primarily to help with burial costs.

“Consumers in the ‘old days’ often purchased more than one such policy,” Dolan notes.

Chuck Bracewell, vice president of the Life Insurance Company of Alabama, says he has more than one insurance policy himself. And, he offers another, simpler explanation for why his state and others in the South are life insurance leaders.

“Let’s say Southern folks are very family-conscious,” Bracewell says.