Historically, recessions have not hurt life insurance sales so dramatically as this one, a researcher says.

“The significant declines we’re seeing this year are a result of both the down economy and a decrease in sales to seniors,” says Ashley Durham, a senior analyst of product research at Limra International, Windsor, Conn.

She was commenting on Limra’s recently released U.S. Individual Life Insurance Sales report for the second quarter 2009, which found a 20% decline in life premium over last year.

Seniors, who tend to buy higher face amounts than do younger buyers, represented more than half of annualized premium sales in 2008, Durham added.

Among seniors, death benefit-guaranteed products, such as secondary guarantee universal life or second-to-die policies, are especially popular. But Durham noted these products suffered a dip in sales because of a rise in premium costs, increases made necessary in many cases due of stiffer capital reserve requirements.

NU’s report on Limra’s quarterly survey can be found here.