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Incorporating Employee Heterogeneity Into Default Rules for Retirement Plan Selection

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  • Gopi Shah Goda
  • Colleen Flaherty Manchester

Abstract

This paper examines the effect of incorporating individual-level heterogeneity into default rules for retirement plan selection. We use data from a large employer that transitioned from a defined benefit (DB) plan to a defined contribution (DC) plan, offering existing employees a choice of plans. Employees who did not make a choice were defaulted to switch to the DC plan if under age 45 or remain in the DB plan if age 45 or older. Using a regression discontinuity framework, we estimate that the default increased the probability of enrolling in one plan over the other by 60 percentage points. We develop a framework to solve for the optimal age-based default rule analytically and use our results to empirically evaluate the optimal age-based default rule for the firm in our setting. We show that for a broad range of levels of risk aversion, conditioning the default for the choice between pension plans on age can substantially improve outcomes relative to a uniform default policy. Our results suggest that considerable welfare gains are possible by varying defaults by observable characteristics.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Center for Retirement Research in its series Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College with number wp2010-5.

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Length: 45 pages
Date of creation: May 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:crr:crrwps:wp2010-5

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  1. Robert B. Barsky & Miles S. Kimball & F. Thomas Juster & Matthew D. Shapiro, 1995. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Survey," NBER Working Papers 5213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  3. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2009. "The Importance of Default Options for Retirement Saving Outcomes: Evidence from the United States," NBER Chapters, in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 167-195 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. Jeffrey R. Brown & Scott J. Weisbenner, 2007. "Who Chooses Defined Contribution Plans?," NBER Working Papers 12842, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Stefano DellaVigna, 2009. "Psychology and Economics: Evidence from the Field," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(2), pages 315-72, June.
  8. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2000. "The Power of Suggestion: Inertia in 401(k) Participation and Savings Behavior," NBER Working Papers 7682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Daniel G. Goldstein & Eric J. Johnson & William F. Sharpe, 2008. "Choosing Outcomes versus Choosing Products: Consumer-Focused Retirement Investment Advice," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(3), pages 440-456, 08.
  10. Olivia S. Mitchell & Gary R. Mottola & Stephen P. Utkus & Takeshi Yamaguchi, 2009. "Default, Framing and Spillover Effects: The Case of Lifecycle Funds in 401(k) Plans," NBER Working Papers 15108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. 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, vol. 124(4), pages 1639-1674, November.
  12. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2005. "Are Empowerment and Education Enough? Underdiversification in 401(k) Plans," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 36(2), pages 151-214.
  13. Miles S. Kimball & Claudia R. Sahm & Matthew D. Shapiro, 2009. "Risk Preferences in the PSID: Individual Imputations and Family Covariation," NBER Working Papers 14754, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. R. Mehra & E. Prescott, 2010. "The equity premium: a puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1401, David K. Levine.
  15. James M. Poterba & John B. Shoven & Clemens Sialm, 2000. "Asset Location for Retirement Savers," NBER Working Papers 7991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. David S. Lee & Thomas Lemieux, 2009. "Regression Discontinuity Designs In Economics," Working Papers 1118, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  17. Zvi Bodie & Alan J. Marcus & Robert C. Merton, 1988. "Defined Benefit versus Defined Contribution Pension Plans: What are the Real Trade-offs?," NBER Chapters, in: Pensions in the U.S. Economy, pages 139-162 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Gopi Shah Goda & Damon Jones & Colleen Flaherty Manchester, 2013. "Retirement Plan Type and Employee Mobility: The Role of Selection and Incentive Effects," NBER Working Papers 18902, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Dean Karlan, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Jonathan Zinman, 2013. "Savings by and for the Poor: A Research Review and Agenda-Working Paper 346," Working Papers 346, Center for Global Development.
  3. Beshears, John & Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C., 2011. "Behavioral economics perspectives on public sector pension plans," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(02), pages 315-336, April.
  4. Gopi Shah Goda & Colleen Flaherty Manchester & Aaron Sojourner, 2012. "What Will My Account Really Be Worth? An Experiment on Exponential Growth Bias and Retirement Saving," NBER Working Papers 17927, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Keith M. Marzilli Ericson, 2014. "When Consumers Do Not Make an Active Decision: Dynamic Default Rules and their Equilibrium Effects," NBER Working Papers 20127, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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