Global life premiums grew by 0.7% in 2013 to $2.608bn, down from 2.3% growth in 2012; research has found.
Swiss Re's report into the health of the global life and non-life insurance industries said that weak sales in North America and the advanced Asian markets offset a strong performance in Western Europe, Oceania and most emerging markets
There was a return to premium growth in Western Europe, in spite of weak economic growth. Premiums were up 4.0%, having declined in each of the previous three years.
Premium growth also was strong in Oceania (up 9.0%) and in the emerging markets, improving to 6.4% from 5.2%. Growth was solid in Latin American and Africa, and resumed in China and India where regulatory changes had prompted a drop in sales in 2012.
Premiums in the US contracted sharply by 7.7% due to the non-recurrence of large corporate deals which had boosted group annuity business in 2012.
Additionally, Swiss Re said that premium growth in the advanced Asian markets was "flat relative to the previous year", further offsetting the sector's strong performance in other regions.
A slowing but still solid growth performance in most of the region's markets was overshadowed by a 12% decline in South Korea where the ending of a tax benefit led to a sharp fall in single-premium product sales; the report highlighted.
However, the report authors were hopeful that life premium growth would be expected to resume in emerging markets.
Swiss Re also forecast a return to profitability, although it noted that investment returns which is key to insurers' earnings, remained low as a result of low interest rates since the 2008 financial crisis.
The re-insurers added: "In 2013, interest rates started to rise particularly in the US and UK and will trend up through 2017. This will benefit insurers, but only in a few years time.
"The average yield on the bond portfolio of a typical life insurer will continue to fall for two to three years because only around 10% of the portfolio is rolled over each year, and the bonds issued 10 years ago have a higher coupon than those issued today."