Those living in rented accommodation are half as likely as mortgaged households to have any protection policies and only 15% are saving to have a mortgage.
The figures from the study of 2,500 people suggest almost 7 million households in Britain are unprotected should they lose an income.
Life insurance policies are held by 51% of people with a mortgage while 23% of those renting have a policy. Around 9.3 million households in Britain currently rent their accommodation.
Critical illness cover is held by 19% of people with mortgages but only 3% of people who are renting.
Meanwhile 13% of mortgage payers have an income protection policy compared to 2% of those who rent.
People saving while renting for a deposit to buy a home account for 15% of the market with 41% of them having been in rented accommodation for more than five years. More than a third of renters believe they will never be in a position to buy a home.
Among over-40s 20% expect to still be paying rent when they retire, on average spending 37% of their retirement income on rent, recent research by Partnership has found.
Louise Colley, protection director for Aviva said: "Renting offers many benefits such as affordability and flexibility, but there's a concern that many renters are being left financially exposed.
"When someone takes out a mortgage they are often asked to consider how they might pay it if they were seriously ill or if sadly an income-earner was to die. This can often prompt people to take out protection products like life insurance and critical illness cover.
"If a family rents, these conversations may not happen, so there's a risk that if a renting family loses an income, they may not have the protection that could help to pay the rent and cover the bills. Whether paying a mortgage or renting, we'd encourage every family to think about the ‘what ifs' and take steps to make sure suitable cover is in place."
When making a life, critical illness or IP claim
Despite no longer requesting medical evidence
Subject to certain criteria
Rising to 7.8% in people over 80
‘We could be failing people, when they need us most’