Factors that affect life insurance premiums: Lifestyle choices, hobbies, and jobs

August 19, 2022

How do potentially dangerous hobbies, occupations, and other lifestyle choices affect life insurance premiums and applications?

Private pilot a hobby that can affect life insurance premiums

In our previous blog, we talked about the details of the medical evaluation portion of your life insurance application. A medical evaluation can tell underwriters a lot about a person, but it's only half of the story!

In addition to your medical information, life insurance underwriters will ask lifestyle questions, such as what you do for work, what you do in your free time, and whether there are any potential risks involved. But learning more about your job, hobbies, and lifestyle choices isn't only about your application - these are factors that affect life insurance premiums. 

Today, we'll take a look at what life insurance underwriters might consider risky and what that means for you. Read on!

What factors do life insurance underwriters look for in an application? 

When you apply for life insurance, your application is reviewed by a life insurance underwriter. Whether it's auto, property, or life insurance, underwriters are responsible for assessing risk for the insurance company while providing the best possible rates for the customer. 

To evaluate an applicant's risk, underwriters look at a variety of medical and non-medical factors. Medical evaluations can be thorough and may involve a comprehensive paramedical exam (which we covered in our previous blog). While not every applicant must undergo a medical exam, all applicants will need to go through a lifestyle questionnaire.

These questionnaires cover a range of topics to give underwriters insight into an applicant's life choices, including their occupation and hobbies. Here, they're looking to see if a person has a high-risk job or if they engage in any high-risk hobbies, which is a large part of evaluating an application and determining the cost of coverage.

What does it mean if I have a high-risk job or high-risk hobby?

Although it may be uncomfortable to think about, these questions help an underwriter understand what activities an applicant engages in that could increase their chances of death. If someone regularly participates in high-risk activities, their life insurance premium could be substantially higher than average to account for that risk. If the risk is too great, some carriers may not even be able to offer that person a policy.

Alternatively, some carriers might offer policies with specific exclusions added on. This means that you would still be able to get coverage, but certain causes of death would be omitted from that coverage. For example, if you have an aviation exclusion, the policy states if a death occurs while piloting an aircraft, the life insurance policy becomes non-payable, and the claim would be declined.

Of course, the way a carrier evaluates high-risk lifestyle choices and how those choices impact coverage options will vary from carrier to carrier. 

But determining the risk associated with a specific occupation or hobby isn't always cut and dry; it's also important for underwriters to understand how experienced or qualified you might be in a particular field, what training you've undergone, which safety precautions you observe, and how often you engage in an activity.

Lifestyle choices that affect life insurance premiums

Now that we generally understand which types of lifestyle choices underwriters evaluate and how they might affect life insurance premiums, let's take a look at specific examples of what might be considered dangerous or high-risk activities.

Occupations: What are considered high-risk occupation or dangerous jobs?

For most of us, our occupation makes up a large portion of what we do every day, so gathering information about this aspect of your life is important. There are plenty of jobs that pose virtually no risk, such as writing blogs on a computer. Yet some jobs, such as mining or commercial fishing, are considered very risky by comparison. Still other occupations, like firefighters and police officers, certainly have some risk associated, but is it enough to affect your life insurance? Let's take a look at a few examples. 

Firefighters. Despite the work they do, a standard firefighter isn't usually considered to be high risk from an underwriting perspective. There are exceptions, however, such as firefighters who fight forest fires or Smokejumpers who parachute into dangerous conditions to battle wildfires. Working in these specialty fields can affect life insurance premiums. 

Law enforcement. Like firefighters, police officers have jobs that certainly pose more of a risk than a standard desk job. That said, most standard law enforcement positions, like a patrol officer, aren't normally considered high-risk when it comes to life insurance. More specialized jobs, like SWAT team members or undercover officers could see higher rates. 

Chemical manufacturing. The process of manufacturing chemicals includes a wide variety of jobs, from lower-risk positions, like chemical engineering, to higher-risk positions that directly interact with or test dangerous chemicals, like acids and fertilizers. Depending on an applicant's specific job role, working at a chemical manufacturing company could be considered high-risk when it comes to life insurance. 

Roofing and construction. Although contractors do their best to practice safety precautions, accidents do happen and when an occupation involves spending hours high off the ground, the risk is inevitably greater. Even if a construction job doesn't involve time on a roof, a construction site can pose a number of risks, such as collapsing materials and electrocution. For these reasons, roofers and some construction workers may find that their life insurance premiums are higher. 

Mining. Although we have made great strides towards making mining a safer profession in recent decades, there are still many risks associated with it. Therefore, life insurance underwriters may find that higher premiums are required for miners. 

Commercial fishing. As many people have seen through recent reality TV shows, commercial fishing can be a dangerous profession. The combination of hard work, unruly seas, and often unpredictable weather makes for an occupation that life insurance underwriters must evaluate carefully. In many cases, this means higher premiums. 

Logging. From chainsaws and heavy machinery to staggering heights and giant timbers, logging is an occupation that life insurance underwriters consider high risk. As a result, loggers typically have higher than average premiums. 

Commercial aviation. Pilots are looked at in two primary categories: professional pilots and amateur or pleasure pilots (we'll talk about those in the next section). Professional pilots who fly on a regular basis, such as an airliner captain, are less of an underwriting risk than amateur pilots who fly occasionally in smaller aircrafts. 

Flight instructors, on the other hand, are highly underwritten if they are approved at all, which means their premiums will be higher. The same is true for the pilot in training. While flight instructors may be highly skilled pilots, it is precisely because they regularly fly with inexperienced students that their underwriting risk is increased. Student pilots working towards their license are not likely to be approved for life insurance coverage unless an aviation exclusion is applied to the policy.

No matter what aviation occupation is being considered, the amount of flight hours the applicant has is a critical piece of the evaluation, as is the type of aircraft.

It's important to remember that just because you have a job that might generally be considered riskier doesn't mean you'll automatically be disqualified from a policy, or that your rates are automatically higher. The underwriter will take the time to research the occupation if needed and they may also speak with the company or organization you work for to find out more about job responsibilities and the risks associated.

Hobbies: What are considered high-risk hobbies or dangerous hobbies?

Whether it's a life-long passion or a simple pastime, most of us enjoy some kind of hobby outside of the work we do. Like jobs, some hobbies are low risk, like painting or playing the guitar, and wouldn't have an impact on your life insurance premium or application. 

But some hobbies involve a range of risks, from only slightly risky hobbies like hiking to very risky hobbies like skydiving. Insurance carriers may vary in what they consider a dangerous hobby to be, but some hobbies are almost universally labeled "high-risk" no matter who the underwriter or carrier is. Let's look at some of those now. 

Aviation. As we mentioned in the previous section, a pilot who flies commercially is typically less of an underwriting risk than a pilot who flies a smaller aircraft for recreation or personal use. Amateur or pleasure pilots are also less regulated than commercial or professional pilots, so the underwriter will often ask about the license type the individual holds (private, instrument rating, single or multi-engine, etc.) along with any flight organizations that the pilot may belong to.

Skydiving. Although diving out of an airplane is terrifying to many people, it isn't as dangerous or deadly as you might initially think. But if underwriters consider flying a plane to be a risk, then they certainly consider jumping out of one to be a risk, too. 

If you are one of those individuals that enjoys living on the edge (or jumping off it as it were) then you are likely to have increased insurance premiums if the carrier agrees to offer coverage. 

BASE jumping. The risk of BASE jumping can be found in the name itself: Rather than jumping out of an airplane, you're jumping off Buildings, Antenna, Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs). Jumping off a building might seem safer due to the reduced height, but that's actually not the case at all; you're closer to the ground, but that means you have less time to open a parachute or react if something goes wrong. 

In many cases, BASE jumping involves illegal activity (building owners don't want people jumping off their roof), which is no doubt one reason that only a relatively small number of people consider it a regular hobby. But the few that do will likely have a difficult time finding a carrier willing to offer life insurance coverage. 

Hang gliding. There are plenty of things to consider when it comes to evaluating the risk of this hobby, such as experience, location, frequency, and the type of equipment used. As any enthusiast can tell you, not all hang gliding locations are the same; some areas experience weather patterns that make them far more dangerous than others. 

But while the risks associated with hang gliding may vary, they are risks nonetheless and many insurance carriers will require higher premiums for individuals who regularly participate in this hobby, if they accept their application at all. 

Rock climbing. Any avid rock climber can tell you that it is a very broad term that applies to a variety of different activities - some far riskier than others. If you rock climb, the underwriters are likely to ask you additional questions to get an idea for what you do specifically. 

For example, rock climbing at a gym is mostly safe and isn't likely to increase your premium. However, going out into the wilderness to free-climb the face of a mountain is another matter entirely.

Other considerations are whether you use ropes or free climb. The average height and difficulty of your climbs may be considered as well. 

Scuba diving. Scuba diving is actually a fairly safe hobby, but some life insurance companies may still consider it to be risky and it may still impact your premium or ability to get coverage depending on that company. 

To those companies that are more flexible, there are a number of considerations that might go into the evaluation. Are you certified, and to what level? How deep do you regularly dive? How often do you dive? How risky are the dives you go on? For example, cave diving is far more risky than shallow-water diving. 

Rodeo. Rodeo isn't one thing - it's many different events which all have different levels of risk, some more so than others. If you participate in a rodeo event, life insurance companies will want to know which ones and how often. Depending on the event and frequency of participation, you may find that your premiums are higher. For example, bareback and bull riding are considered to be some of the riskier events you'll find in a rodeo. 

In fact, many different types of athletes across a variety of sports are often placed in higher risk categories when it comes to life insurance. Although they are in peak physical condition, the demanding nature of sports (especially contact sports like football, boxing, and MMA) cause athletes to face greater risks than individuals who do not regularly participate in sports. 

Fortunately, most hobbies don't affect life insurance premiums at all. However, if you enjoy an activity like those mentioned here, you are by no means automatically disqualified from life insurance, nor should you think you'll have to pay an arm and a leg for it by default. 
Just as an underwriter will want to ask more questions about your occupation if it could potentially be considered high-risk, they'll also ask for further details if you participate in potentially dangerous hobbies. How often do you engage in this hobby? How experienced are you and how much training do you have? These are all important considerations to make beyond the fact of your participation.

Other factors that affect life insurance premiums

Your occupation and hobbies might make up a lot of the time you spend in life, but there are other more general, overarching factors and lifestyle choices considered. Factors like your activity level, diet, and your general health and wellness are important considerations during your life insurance application and can have an impact on your premium. Many of these variables show up in the medical evaluation, but the application process and the underwriter may ask for additional information. 

Additionally, lifestyle choices you make involving substance use, like alcohol and tobacco, will almost certainly affect life insurance premiums. 

Alcohol use. Most life insurance companies don't mind alcohol used in moderation, but excessive alcohol use, or substance abuse of any kind, can increase your life insurance premium and may disqualify you. 

Smoking. Smoking is one of the easiest ways to raise your life insurance premium. Even if you limit your tobacco use or have recently quit, underwriters may still place you in a higher risk category. 

It is worth noting that you can typically reduce the premium increase over time if you can show that you have stopped all tobacco use and have remained tobacco and smoke-free for a certain period of time.

The one factor you don't have control over...

We've discussed just about every factor that can affect your life insurance premium and the application process, but there is a final one worth mentioning; one that you have no control over at all: your age. 

Your age doesn't just affect your premium - it can also influence the application process itself. As a general rule of thumb, the younger you are, the easier the application is likely to be. Depending on the policy, if you're young, healthy, and have a relatively low-risk lifestyle, getting life insurance coverage can be a simple, straightforward process. 

Past a certain age, however, medical evaluations become a necessity and premiums for the same policy and coverage can begin to increase. That's why it's important to begin looking into life insurance as soon as you are able. So, what's next?

What's next? 

Apply for life insurance, of course! You may not have control over time or aging, but you can control when you get the application process started! We've answered a lot of common questions about the application process, but it's also important to reiterate that every carrier handles it a little differently. If you have additional questions, or questions about your specific insurance needs, the best resource at your disposal is your local life insurance agent!

Women high-fiving after rock cliimbing

Don't wait to protect your loved ones with a life insurance policy from Germania Life! Contact Germania Life at 1-800-392-2202 ext. 2060 or gilife@germaniainsurance.com - or get a fast, free quote online.

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

What do you want to read more about? For suggestions, questions, or content-related inquiries, contact us at content@germaniainsurance.com!

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