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How COVID-19 affects men and women differently in South Africa


Emerging data from Liberty is highlighting key differences between male and female clients in terms of the way they experience the effects of COVID-19.


Liberty's 2020 Claim Statistics show the numerous ways in which South Africans of varying backgrounds claimed on their insurance policies in 2020, however, the statistics also revealed men and women had contrasting experiences they were forced to deal with.


Kresantha Pillay, Liberty Lead Specialist for Lifestyle Protector, says the Liberty statistics also support the theory that males are more likely to die from COVID-19 than females across all ages. Conversely, Liberty's claim stats figures show women suffer the economic consequences more so than men.


"There is a higher morbidity and fatality (rate) among males over females. While this data is still emerging, it is likely due to biological and lifestyle differences," she says.


On COVID-19 related funeral claims – of which Liberty paid of R2.5 million in 2020 – the majority were attributed to men. Several international studies such as the Healthline 2020 article that stated that "some of the underlying reasons why COVID-19 may be more deadly for men than women may include the fact that heart disease is more common in elderly men than in elderly women". While the majority of the research suggests both men and women are equally likely to contract the virus, the World Health Organisation reported that 63% of COVID-19 deaths in Europe were men.


Pillay continued to add "that it has been shown that men have genetically weaker immune systems and responses to infections, as well as different social and occupational behaviours, that can make them more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 related complications."


Beyond the health-related statistics, the economic effects of the lockdown have led to widespread job losses, as well as a reduction in income for many people. Notably, according to the Liberty 2020 Claims Statistics, more women than men were left in precarious financial positions due to the pandemic, and Liberty's own female clients faced the same issue – their data shows that proportionately, more women than men were affected by retrenchments.

In 2019, only 4.6% of Liberty's overall claims were related to retrenchment, but this doubled to 9.2% last year. In 2020, 14.4% of all women's claims were retrenchment related, compared to 6.6% of their male counterparts.


The disparity between men and women's retrenchment has seemingly been a global issue, as according to a report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research in the United States, women shouldered the burden of nearly 60% of the initial job losses across all economic sectors.


Pillay says that in South Africa, Stats SA has shown that industries that generally have more women employees, such as the tourism, hospitality, and food sectors, were more seriously affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, which may be another reason for the contrast.


The highest number of Liberty's retrenchment claims were lodged between August and October last year, highlighting the lag following the pandemic's initial economic effects brought about by earlier lockdown measures.


Pillay explained that while Liberty's statistics do seem to correlate with international trends, the internal data has highlighted something more concerning – the wide insurance gap between men and women.


"What our data has shown for some time is that there is clearly an insurance gap between men and women, especially young women," says Pillay.


According to the South African Board for People and Practices, working mothers are the primary breadwinners in four out of ten households. With many South African households placing more financial reliance on mothers as the breadwinners, the consequences of not being appropriately covered has a direct economic impact on the entire family.


'It is imperative that women utilize the services of Financial Advisers to understand their unique risk cover needs. Through insurance solutions, such as Liberty's Lifestyle Protector that offers comprehensive and flexible cover for themselves and their families, we can help close this gender gap," says Pillay.


What has been good news is that when we examined the new business sales over the last few years, we found that more females are purchasing cover, so we expect this trend to change in the future," says Pillay.


This article does not constitute tax, legal, financial, regulatory, accounting, technical or other advice. The material has been created for information purpose only and does not contain any personal recommendations. While every care has been taken in preparing this material, no member of Liberty gives any representation, warranty or undertaking and accepts no responsibility or liability as to the accuracy, or completeness, of the information presented. Please consult your financial adviser should you require advice of a financial nature and/or intermediary services.


Liberty Group Limited is the Licensed Insurer of Lifestyle Protector and an Authorised Financial Services Provider (no 2409). Terms and conditions apply.

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