Primary life

Market overview

The global life insurance industry generated about USD 2 600 billion in premium income in 2016, of which 18% came from emerging markets. Around 85% of premium income in life insurance derives from savings and retirement products. The protection business, which covers mortality and morbidity risks and represents the balance of the market, has a declining share of premium income.


Market size in USD billions
Estimated global premium income in 2016


Market performance
Estimated global premium growth in 2016

Market performance

Global life insurance premium income increased by 4% in US dollar terms as well as in real terms in 2016.

In mature markets, real premium income growth is estimated to have slowed to 2% in 2016 from 3.4% in 2015. Growth continued to decline in the US, the UK and most Continental European markets, and premiums grew at a slower pace in Canada and Japan. In Australia, premium income contracted again, following robust growth in 2015, the weakness stemming mainly from volatility in investment-linked products as well as poor performance of disability and income protection products.

In emerging markets, premium income rose by an estimated 20% in 2016 after a 13% gain in 2015. Growth was strongest in the emerging markets in Asia: in China, premiums were up 34%, supported by strong sales of ordinary life products, while unit-linked and participating life policies were negatively affected by stock market volatility, Premium growth eased slightly to 7% in Latin America while in CEE, premiums contracted again, despite a strong rebound in Russia, due to declines in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Life insurance is a long-term business and new business is an important contributor to industry growth. In the US, sales of term insurance products increased 2% in the first half of 2016, while sales of disability insurance improved at a stronger 5%. In Canada, term sales recovered modestly (up 2%) in the first half of 2016, following solid growth of 7% in 2015.

The protection business in the UK is growing again after a long period of contraction. In the first half of the year, protection sales rose by 4% following three consecutive years of declining premiums. In Germany, term sales grew by 2% in the first two quarters of the year, while sales of disability products grew by 4%. Long-term care insurance sales in Germany also improved. In Italy, protection sales are projected to have grown marginally.

The savings business contracted or slowed due to low interest rates, equity market volatility, and the impact of pension reforms in some markets. Low interest rates have made it harder for insurers to earn enough investment income and in many countries, guarantees and profit sharing have been reduced. Savings-type insurance has also become more expensive for regulatory reasons (eg, higher capital requirements for long-term guarantees, or asset/liability mismatches). This has made savings-type insurance less attractive for both policyholders and suppliers. Together with adjusting their products and offering more flexible guarantees, insurers are introducing new concepts such as a guarantee of a certain return over the full duration of the contract, rather than an annual return.


There is significant potential for sales growth in mortality and health protection given the large protection gap in many markets and growing consumer awareness of the risks of underinsurance. Global real premium income is forecast to rise between 4% and 5% annually in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The major driver for the global life sector is expected to be the emerging markets, where stabilising growth, growing populations, urbanisation and a rising middle class underpin the positive outlook for insurers and insurance penetration.