The global life insurance sector returned to positive growth in 2014, with premiums up 4.3% to $2.66trn after a 1.8% decline in 2013, according to Swiss Re’s latest sigma study.

The report found that in the life sector, there were considerable variations in the premium growth outcomes across different regions.

For instance, very strong growth in Oceania, and solid results in Western Europe and Japan more than offset yet another year of contraction in North America.

In the emerging markets, life premiums grew by 6.9% in 2014 compared to 3.6% in 2013.

The rise was driven mainly by China, where new distribution channels such as online sales and a recovery in bancassurance boosted premium income. In other emerging regions, however, Swiss Re said premium growth generally slowed or even declined.

Life premiums in the advanced markets grew by 3.8% in 2014, continuing a volatile pattern of growth and contractions since 2010.

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Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss Re, said: "Despite the acceleration in 2014, overall advanced-market life insurance premiums are about the same level as before the steep drop in volumes in 2008."

Karl added: "The gain in premiums in 2014 outpaced economic growth, increasing insurance penetration in the advanced markets, but premiums post-crisis have been growing at a much slower rate than before the financial crisis."

Overall, the sigma study said profitability in the life insurance sector improved slightly in 2014, driven by stronger stock markets, higher premium growth and cost containment efforts.

Looking ahead, Swiss Re said life premium growth is expected to remain fairly solid in the advanced regions in 2015 and increase in the emerging markets, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe and China.

According to the reinsurer, the US life market is likely to improve alongside the strengthening economy and jobs market, but in Western Europe, premium growth will slow from the strong gain in 2014.