Almost half of men and 46% of women who purchased individual critical illness insurance policies in 2011 were younger than age 45, according to a recent survey.

Today more than one million individuals have critical illness protection in the U.S.

The policy pays a tax-free, lump-sum cash benefit generally upon diagnosis of a covered critical illness such as cancer, heart attack or stroke. 

Researchers of the 2012 Critical Illness Insurance Buyer Study, conducted by the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance and General Re Life Corporation, analyzed data from 10 critical illness insurers, which accounted for more than 57,200 purchasers of individual critical illness insurance policies made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2011.

"While the majority of critical illness insurance sales continue to be made in the worksite setting, sales to individuals are increasing as awareness grows," says Jesse Slome, AACII executive director.

Also the study reveals that 18% of male buyers and 17% of female buyers were between the ages of 25 and 34. Fewer than one in 10 buyers were age 25 or younger, and more than one in five buyers were age 55 or older.

The study found that purchasing ages for men and women were more closely aligned compared to last year, says Stephen Rowley, vice president for Gen Re.

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