When Did Life Insurance Start? Unraveling the History of Death’s Paycheck

When did life insurance start? Unraveling the History of Death’s Paycheck

Life insurance protects your loved ones when you’re gone, but where did this idea even come from?

Did you know the concept of life insurance dates back over 500 years?

In this article, we will explore the origins and evolution of this fascinating industry.

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When did life insurance start? Learn about the origins and evolution of this fascinating industry in this informative and engaging article. (Source: funeralfunds)

What is life insurance?

Life insurance is a contract between an insurer and a policyholder where the insurer agrees to pay a sum of money to the beneficiary upon the death of the policyholder.

The policyholder pays a regular premium to the insurer in exchange for this protection.

Life insurance serves many purposes, such as providing financial security, covering funeral costs, paying off debts, or leaving a legacy.

It can also be used as an investment or a tax-saving tool.

How did life insurance start?

The idea of sharing risk and pooling resources is not new.

Ancient civilizations, such as Babylon, China, and Rome, had laws and codes that regulated liability and compensation for losses.

Medieval guilds and religious groups also offered mutual aid and support to their members in times of need.

However, the earliest recorded life insurance policy was issued in London in 1583.

It covered a man named William Gybbons for 12 months.

If he died within that time, his relatives would receive £383.

The policy was signed by 16 underwriters, who each contributed a portion of the premium and the risk.

What were the challenges of early life insurance?

Life insurance was not very popular or successful in its early days.

Many obstacles and difficulties hindered its development, such as:

  • Lack of data: There was no reliable information on mortality rates, life expectancy, or causes of death. This made it hard to calculate premiums and assess risks accurately.
  • Inaccurate risk assessment: There was no standard method of measuring or classifying risks. Different underwriters had different criteria and opinions on who was eligible or ineligible for coverage.
  • Business failures: Many life insurance ventures failed due to mismanagement, fraud, or insufficient funds. Some policyholders also tried to cheat the system by faking their deaths or dying by suicide.

How did life insurance evolve and grow?

The turning point for life insurance came in the 17th and 18th centuries, when several scientific and social innovations changed the industry for the better.

Some of these were:

  • Mortality tables: These were tables that showed the probability of death at different ages, based on statistical data and mathematical formulas. Pioneers like John Grant, Edmond Halley, and Abraham de Moivre developed them. They enabled insurers to calculate premiums more accurately and fairly.
  • Formal life insurance companies: These were organizations that specialized in life insurance and operated on a large scale. Entrepreneurs and philanthropists who recognized the potential and worth of life insurance founded them. The first one was the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, founded in London in 1706.
  • Spread of life insurance to the United States: Life insurance was introduced to the American colonies by British immigrants and traders. The first life insurance company in America was the Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund, founded in Philadelphia in 1759. It provided coverage for the widows and orphans of Presbyterian ministers.

How did life insurance transform in the modern era?

The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed the rapid growth and diversification of life insurance, thanks to technological advancements and changing customer needs.

Some of the key developments were:

  • Computers: These were machines that could process large amounts of data and perform complex calculations. They revolutionized the industry by improving efficiency, accuracy, and speed. They also enabled the creation of new products and services, such as online platforms, digital policies, and automated underwriting.
  • Statistical modeling and actuarial science: These were disciplines that applied mathematics and statistics to analyze and manage risks. They enhanced the industry by providing more sophisticated and reliable methods of risk assessment, pricing, and valuation. They also helped insurers cope with new challenges, such as inflation, regulation, and competition.
  • Diversification of life insurance products: These were variations and innovations of life insurance policies that catered to different customer segments and preferences. They included term life, whole life, universal life, variable life, and endowment policies. They offered more flexibility, customization, and benefits to policyholders.

What is the current state and future outlook of life insurance?

Life insurance is now a global and dynamic industry that plays a vital role in the economy and society.

According to the World Bank, total life insurance premiums worldwide amounted to $2.9 trillion in 2019, accounting for 3.6% of the global GDP.

The largest markets are the United States, China, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The future of life insurance is promising and exciting as it adapts to the changing needs and expectations of customers.

Some of the trends and opportunities that will shape the industry are:

  • Customer-centricity: This means putting the customer at the heart of everything, from product design to service delivery. It involves understanding and meeting the customer’s needs, preferences, and values. It also requires providing a seamless and personalized customer experience across all channels and touchpoints.
  • Innovation and digitalization: This means leveraging new technologies and data to create new products and services, improve efficiency and quality, and enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty. It involves using artificial intelligence, blockchain, biometrics, and cloud computing to optimize processes, reduce costs, and increase security. It also requires embracing new business models, such as peer-to-peer, on-demand, and microinsurance.
  • Social and environmental responsibility: This means contributing to the well-being and sustainability of society and the environment. It involves addressing social issues, such as poverty, health, and education, through corporate social responsibility and impact investing. It also requires mitigating environmental risks, such as climate change, pollution, and natural disasters, through green insurance and disaster relief.

Life insurance takeaways

Here are some key takeaways from this article:

  • Life insurance is a contract that pays a sum of money to the beneficiary upon the death of the policyholder.
  • Life insurance dates back to over 500 years ago, when the first recorded policy was issued in London in 1583.
  • Life insurance faced many challenges in its early days, such as a lack of data, inaccurate risk assessment, and business failures.
  • Life insurance evolved and grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, thanks to the development of mortality tables, the formation of formal life insurance companies, and the spread of life insurance to the United States.
  • Life insurance transformed and diversified in the 19th and 20th centuries, thanks to technological advancements, statistical modeling, actuarial science, and the emergence of different policy types.
  • Life insurance is now a global and dynamic industry that adapts to the changing needs and expectations of customers. It is influenced by trends and opportunities such as customer-centricity, innovation and digitalization, and social and environmental responsibility.


Life insurance has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the 16th century.

It has evolved and grown through various stages of development, driven by scientific, social, and technological innovations.

It has transformed and diversified into a modern and dynamic industry that serves millions of customers around the world.

We hope you enjoyed this article and learned something new about life insurance history.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us.

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