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[LIFE INSURANCE
INSURANCE


Although mortality had long been recognized by special inquirers as a promising theme for statistical inquiry, its actual treatment, except in the narrow school founded by Johann Siissmilch in Germany (1746), and in the isolated and almost prophetic work of de Parcieux in France, had been speculative and vague. Demoivre handled it with mathematical acuteness, but framed his scale of mortality (about 17 50) on a hypothesis of his own, not on known facts. Out of each group of eighty-six deaths, according to this scale, one dies on the average each year till all are gone; so that x being the present age, the probability of death within a year is always 1/(86-x). This conjecture, which, during middle life, served as a rough approximation to the truth, almost as well as some of the early tables of repute, long found remarkable acceptance among men of science. Dr Price's researches first brought to general apprehension the conviction that a large basis of observed facts is the only source of real knowledge. The government of the day felt the influence of the movement. In 1786 Pitt, then chancellor of the exchequer, consulted Dr Price on plans for the conversion of debt, and in 1789 the government first showed knowledge that in granting annuities ages must be distinguished, and that the prospective life at ninety and that at twenty-five are not to be estimated as equal. About 1808 a conversion of 3% into annuities was planned. The Northampton Table was adopted, and Morgan computed rates from it which were used for twenty years. It proved to represent a mortality far in excess of the averae, and in 1821 John Finlaison, being made actuary to the debt commissioners, protested against the rates in use. But not until 1828, when the treasury had lost two millions of pounds by selling annuities too cheap, was the law repealed. Finlaison then constructed a new and less wasteful scale for conversions, but singular results followed. At the age of ninety, for instance, £100 would purchase an annuity of £62. Combinations were formed to purchase annuities on the lives of old people selected for their vigour; 675 of these were taken, with a further loss of at least a million to the treasury. The Northampton Table, in fact, like the earlier Breslau Table, was formed without a census, and upon the false assumption that the population was stationary. Dr Price's estimate, founded on the recorded baptisms, was much too low, many of the people being of a sect which rejected infant baptism. His table represents an average life of twenty-four years, whilst subsequent inquiries indicate a true average of about thirty years at that time in the same parishes. The actual mortality in the Equitable Society proved to be less by one-third than that anticipated by the table. The error had consequences of vast moment. The immediate and dazzling prosperity of the societies founding rates on this supposed scientific basis excited the public imagination, stimulated the business exceedingly, and led to many extravagant projects, followed by fluctuations and failures which impaired its healthy growth and usefulness.

In spite of gross defects, the Northampton Table remained for a century by far the most important table of mortality, employed as the basis of calculation by leading commfg., panies in Great Britain, and adopted by the courts 1, ,, ,», , s, as practically a part of the common law. Parliament, followed by some state legislatures and many courts in America, even made it the authorized standard for valuing annuity charges and reversionary interests. But in life insurance practice it is now wholly antiquated. Like its most famous successor, the Carlisle Table of Joshua Milne, it rested upon observations of the population of a town. How far this limited and peculiar group represented the nation was still doubtful; no less so how far the rate of mortality among applicants for insurance, accepted by the offices, would correspond with that of the urban citizens or of the whole body. As soon as the companies had sufficient records of their own experience the work began of striving to construct, for business use, tables which should truly express it. This branch of research has ever since been prosecuted with all the resources they could command of industry, practical judgment and mathematical skill; and the successive achievements in it may be accepted as in general the sum and measure of the progress of actuarial science. Now the recognition of an ascertainable uniformity in human mortality has become part of the general stock of thought. But actuarial science, which originated in Great Britain, was long the peculiar and almost exclusive possession of British students, and even till now has been practised most fruitfully in its first home, mainly by the actuaries of life insurance institutions, but with important contributions from other inquirers, especially those in the service of the registrar-general. The most complete storehouse of technical and practical learning on the general theory and on all its applications to life insurance practice is found in the successive volumes of the Journal of the Institute of Actuaries. The tables published by the Institute in 1872, founded on the experience to 1863 of twenty companies (see ANNUITY), still remain the most authoritative expression of the mortality of insured lives, and have largely replaced all earlier standards in the valuations of the British companies, more than three-fourths of which, in their latest returns to the Board 'of Trade, compute their reinsurance reserves by the H”" and H'“~5 tables. But for several years a committee of the Institute and of the Scottish Faculty of Actuaries has been engaged in collecting and arranging for investigation the far vaster experience which has now accumulated in the hands of sixty companies, including the records of more than a million policies. The large basis of facts thus obtained will be treated with special reference to different classes of risks, and will throw much light on difficult questions of selection, which have hitherto been treated speculatively, or at least without the conclusive evidence of large averages, and are still more or less in controversy. Some of these will require more detailed notice hereafter. It is only since the middle of the 19th century that actuarial science has ra idly advanced in other countries, chiefly under the stimulus of the extending practice of life insurance. Both in America and upon the continent of Europe the small business transacted by the pioneer companies was largely conducted on empirical and conjectural methods from year to year, English custom being consulted as a guide in fixing premiums. The Gotha Bank, the first institution to insure lives upon business principles in Germany, adopted at its foundation in 1827 a mortality table ormed by Charles Babbage upon the basis of the Northampton Table, corrected from cursory notes upon the early experience of the Equitable Society, which had been given by Its actuary to a general meeting of its members in 1800. The French companies, and several in Germany of later origin than the Gotha, took as their standard the so-called Table of de Parcieux, previously described; and this table. with modifications dictated by experience, continued u ntil, very recently in general use in France. The Seventeen Companies' Table of 1843 was adopted by the Insurance Commissioners of lVlassachusetts, who in 1859 introduced the methods of state supervision of insurance now generally practised in the United'States, This table, though long superseded in the esteem of actuaries in their ordinary work, is still the standard for official valuations in most states of the union, a fact which has given it undue prominence. The so-called American Table, derived in 1868 from the limited experience of the largest American company during its earliest years, was the first important work of the kind done in America, In view of its narrow basis of facts, it has stood the test of time singularly well, and it is now in wider use than any other for computing the premiums of American companies. Its most marked difference from the standard British tables or insured lives is that it indicates a decidedly lower rate of mortality throughout the period of mature manhood, between the ages of thirty-tive and seventy-five, though with a higher rate at the extremes of life; and this peculiarity is also found in American tables deduced from more recent and far larger experience. Actuarial science has been widely cultivated in the Un1ted States of late years, the numbers and zeal of its professional students having kept pace with the extraordinary growth of life insurance. The aggressive activity of the companies has brought the principles of the business'home to the popular mind as in no other countryfand a large number of periodicals are devoted entirely to the subject. These tendencies have been strengthened by the system of supervision practised by the states, which has also greatly mliuenced public opinion, directing attention in an extraordinary degree to certain special and technical features, to the neglect of more comprehensive and more useful criticism. In the official work of the state departments the actuary's province appears substantially to begin and end with the valuation of liabilities upon the net premium basis, which is applied with increasing strictness as the sole and final standard of solvency, and the determination by it of the “legal surplus " of each company. But a considerable number of professional actuaries have prosecuted their studies in a scientific spirit,

and most of these since 1889 have been associated in the Actuarial