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Active vs. Passive Decisions and Crowd-Out in Retirement Savings Accounts: Evidence from Denmark

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  • Chetty, Raj

    (Harvard University)

  • Friedman, John N.

    (Harvard University)

  • Leth-Peterson, Soren

    (University of Copenhagen)

  • Nielsen, Torben Heien

    (Danish National Centre for Social Research)

  • Olsen, Tore

    (University of Copenhagen)

Abstract

Do retirement savings policies--such as tax subsidies or employer-provided pension plans--increase total saving for retirement or simply induce shifting across accounts? We revisit this classic question using 45 million observations on wealth for the population of Denmark. We find that a policy's impact on wealth accumulation depends on whether it changes savings rates by active or passive choice. Tax subsidies, which rely upon individuals to take an action to raise savings, have small impacts on total wealth. We estimate that each $1 of tax expenditure on subsidies increases total saving by 1 cent. In contrast, policies that raise retirement contributions if individuals take no action--such as automatic employer contributions to retirement accounts--increase wealth accumulation substantially. Price subsidies only affect the behavior of active savers who respond to incentives, whereas automatic contributions increase the savings of passive individuals who do not reoptimize. We estimate that approximately 85% of individuals are passive savers. The 15% of active savers who respond to price subsidies do so primarily by shifting assets across accounts rather than reducing consumption. These individuals are also more likely to offset changes in automatic contributions and have higher wealth-income ratios. We conclude that automatic contributions are more effective at increasing savings rates than price subsidies for three reasons: (1) subsidies induce relatively few individuals to respond, (2) they generate substantial crowd-out conditional on response, and (3) they do not influence the savings behavior of passive individuals, who are least prepared for retirement.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government in its series Working Paper Series with number rwp13-002.

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Date of creation: Jan 2013
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp13-002

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Cited by:
  1. Christian Gillitzer & Peer Ebbesen Skov, 2013. "Evidence on Unclaimed Charitable Contributions from the Introduction of Third-Party Information Reporting in Denmark," EPRU Working Paper Series 2013-04, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  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. Benjamin R. Handel & Jonathan T. Kolstad, 2013. "Health Insurance for “Humans”: Information Frictions, Plan Choice, and Consumer Welfare," NBER Working Papers 19373, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. James M. Poterba, 2014. "Retirement Security in an Aging Society," NBER Working Papers 19930, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Dean Karlan & Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan & Jonathan Zinman, 2013. "Savings by and for the Poor: A Research Review and Agenda," Working Papers 1027, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  6. Emel Filiz-Ozbay & Jonathan Guryan & Kyle Hyndman & Melissa Schettini Kearney & Erkut Y. Ozbay, 2013. "Do Lottery Payments Induce Savings Behavior: Evidence from the Lab," NBER Working Papers 19130, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. 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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