A large mutual insurer says it will continue to pay dividends to policyholders in 2009.

The board of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass., says the company will be paying the holders of its participating insurance policies a total of about $1.35 billion in dividends in 2009, down from $1.38 billion in dividends this year.

The company has cut the 2009 dividend rate on most new eligible participating life insurance policies to 7.6%, from 7.9% this year.

MassMutual has paid dividends every year since the 1860s.