Insuring modern societies: A historical-comparative sociology of private insurance, its evolution, origins and consequences
Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft/ German Research Foundation (project number: 521230583)
This project proposes a historical-comparative sociology of the private insurance sector in its life and non-life branches (property, transport, etc.) in 20 old OECD countries starting in the late 19th century and 15 emerging economies with shorter coverage (Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe). The insurance sector annually collects about 7% of world GDP as premium income, holds about half of total banking assets and becomes increasingly important in times of rising climate and catastrophe risks. This has strangely been neglected by either historians and economists of finance, with their focus on banks and capital markets, or political scientists, with their strong focus on public insurances within the welfare states. Sociologists themselves have covered “risk sociology” very well, but largely ignored the insurance sector therein. This project aims at filling this gap by building a cross-country historical database of the main stock and flow variables of modern premium-based insurances in order to study their evolution across time and countries, to explain their growth and to investigate selected consequences in three working packages. The first working package will build the insurance database and describe the about 200 years of modern insurance development and will compare its growth trends with those of other financial institutions and the public welfare state. It will also uncover countries’ different insurance growth trajectories. The second working package addresses the question of different growth determinants by mainly looking at often discussed economic and cultural factors, i.e. the relationship between economic development and insurance growth and the potentially Weberian relationship between Protestantism and different denominations and insurance development. A final working package focuses on selected consequences of insurances: does the sector macroeconomically insure against financial and other crises by allowing for quicker economic recoveries? Is there a trade-off between private insurers and public insurance domains, particularly in the pension and accident domain? Overall, the project connects to some questions studied across different disciplines for very short time spans, but plays out a huge data advantage of covering many countries in the long-run. Beyond building a future database for practical use in welfare, finance and securities studies, the project contributes to a potential sociology insurance that connects to Weberian themes of rationalization, to the different worlds of public welfare and the varieties of capitalism.