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Optimal Defaults and Active Decisions

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  • James Choi
  • David Laibson
  • Brigitte Madrian
  • Andrew Metrick

Abstract

Defaults can have a dramatic influence on consumer decisions. We identify an overlooked but practical alternative to defaults: requiring individuals to make an explicit choice for themselves. We study such "active decisions" in the context of 401(k) saving. We find that compelling new hires to make active decisions about 401(k) enrollment raises the initial fraction that enroll by 28 percentage points relative to a standard opt-in enrollment procedure, producing a savings distribution three months after hire that would take three years to achieve under standard enrollment. We also present a model of 401(k) enrollment and characterize the optimal enrollment regime. Active decisions are optimal when consumers have a strong propensity to procrastinate and savings preferences that are highly heterogeneous. Naive beliefs about future time-inconsistency strengthen the normative appeal of the active-decision enrollment regime. However, financial illiteracy favors default enrollment over active decision enrollment.

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Paper provided by UCLA Department of Economics in its series Levine's Bibliography with number 666156000000000488.

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Date of creation: 10 Feb 2005
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Handle: RePEc:cla:levrem:666156000000000488

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  1. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
  2. Choi, James & Madrian, Brigitte & Laibson, David I., 2010. "Why Does the Law of One Price Fail? An Experiment on Index Mutual Funds," Scholarly Articles 4686775, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  3. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "For Better or For Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," JCPR Working Papers, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research 256, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  4. Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein, 2003. "Libertarian Paternalism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 175-179, May.
  5. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2006. "Simplification and Saving," NBER Working Papers 12659, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Alberto Abadie & Sebastien Gay, 2004. "The Impact of Presumed Consent Legislation on Cadaveric Organ Donation: A Cross Country Study," NBER Working Papers 10604, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Gabriel D. Carroll & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2009. "Optimal Defaults and Active Decisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1639-1674, November.
  8. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save More Tomorrow (TM): Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S164-S187, February.
  9. Mark J. Warshawsky & John Ameriks, . "How Prepared Are Americans for Retirement?," Pension Research Council Working Papers 98-11, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  10. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2001. "THE POWER OF SUGGESTION: INERTIA IN 401(k) PARTICIPATION AND SAVINGS BEHAVIOR," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187, November.
  11. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2004. "Consumption vs. Expenditure," NBER Working Papers 10307, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "Defined Contribution Pensions: Plan Rules, Participant Decisions, and the Path of Least Resistance," JCPR Working Papers, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research 257, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  13. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
  14. James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian, 2008. "$100 Bills on the Sidewalk: Suboptimal Investment in 401(K) Plans," Yale School of Management Working Papers, Yale School of Management amz2519, Yale School of Management, revised 01 Jul 2009.
  15. Erik Hurst, 2004. "Grasshoppers, Ants and Pre-Retirement Wealth: A Test of Permanent Income Consumers," Working Papers, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center wp088, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  16. Engen, Eric & Gale, William & Uccello, Cori, 1999. "The Adequacy of Household Saving," MPRA Paper 56442, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  17. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2001. "Naive Diversification Strategies in Defined Contribution Saving Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 79-98, March.
  18. Henrik Cronqvist & Richard H. Thaler, 2004. "Design Choices in Privatized Social-Security Systems: Learning from the Swedish Experience," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 424-428, May.
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  1. The Argument Clinic
    by Richard Thaler in cato unbound on 2010-04-16 18:05:17
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