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The Inattentive Participant: Portfolio Trading Behavior in 401(k) Plans

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Author Info

  • Olivia S. Mitchell

    (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Gary R. Mottola

    (Vanguard Center for Retirement Research)

  • Stephen P. Utkus

    (Vanguard Center for Retirement Research)

  • Takeshi Yamaguchi

    (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

Abstract

Most workers in defined contribution retirement plans are inattentive portfolio managers: only a few engage in any trading at all, and only a tiny minority trades actively. Using a rich new dataset on 1.2 million workers in over 1,500 plans, we find that most 401(k) plan participants are characterized by profound inertia. Almost all participants (80%) initiate no trades, and an additional 11% makes only a single trade, in a two-year period. Even among traders, portfolio turnover rates are one-third the rate of professional money managers. Those who trade in their 401(k) plans are more affluent older men, with higher incomes and longer job tenure. They tend to use the internet for 401(k) account access, hold a larger number of investment options, and are more likely to hold active equity funds rather than index or lifecycle funds. Some plan features, including offering own-employer stock, also raise trading levels.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center in its series Working Papers with number wp115.

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Length: 41 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp115

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  1. Julie Agnew & Pierluigi Balduzzi & Annika Sundén, 2003. "Portfolio Choice and Trading in a Large 401(k) Plan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 193-215, March.
  2. Gervais, Simon & Odean, Terrance, 2001. "Learning to be Overconfident," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 14(1), pages 1-27.
  3. Samuelson, Paul A, 1969. "Lifetime Portfolio Selection by Dynamic Stochastic Programming," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(3), pages 239-46, August.
  4. 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, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187, November.
  5. Olivia S. Mitchell & Stephen P. Utkus & Tongxuan (Stella) Yang, 2005. "Turning Workers into Savers? Incentives, Liquidity, and Choice in 401(k) Plan Design," NBER Working Papers 11726, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C., 2004. "Plan Design and 401(k) Savings Outcomes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 275-98, June Cita.
  7. Brad M. Barber & Terrance Odean, 2002. "Online Investors: Do the Slow Die First?," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 15(2), pages 455-488, March.
  8. Brad M. Barber & Terrance Odean, 2000. "Trading Is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 55(2), pages 773-806, 04.
  9. William E. Even & David A. Macpherson, 2004. "Determinants and Effects of Employer Matching Contributions in 401(k) Plans," Labor and Demography 0405001, EconWPA.
  10. Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Metrick, Andrew, 2002. "How does the Internet affect trading? Evidence from investor behavior in 401(k) plans," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(3), pages 397-421, June.
  11. Terrance Odean, 1999. "Do Investors Trade Too Much?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1279-1298, December.
  12. Douglas D. Bernheim, . "Financial Illiteracy, Education, and Retirement Saving," Pension Research Council Working Papers 96-7, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  13. Brad M. Barber & Terrance Odean, 2001. "Boys Will Be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence, And Common Stock Investment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(1), pages 261-292, February.
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Cited by:
  1. Spiegel, Matthew & Zhang, Hong, 2013. "Mutual fund risk and market share-adjusted fund flows," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 108(2), pages 506-528.
  2. Dvorak, Tomas & Hanley, Henry, 2010. "Financial literacy and the design of retirement plans," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 645-652, December.
  3. Hugh H. Kim & Raimond Maurer & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2013. "Time is Money: Life Cycle Rational Inertia and Delegation of Investment Management," NBER Working Papers 19732, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Yannis Bilias & Dimitris Georgarakos & Michael Haliassos, 2010. "Portfolio Inertia and Stock Market Fluctuations," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 42(4), pages 715-742, 06.
  5. Johnson, Woodrow T., 2010. "Do investors trade uniformly through time?," Journal of Empirical Finance, Elsevier, vol. 17(4), pages 645-658, September.
  6. James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian, 2008. "The Flypaper Effect in Individual Investor Asset Allocation," Yale School of Management Working Papers amz2560, Yale School of Management.
  7. Johnny Kang & Tapio Pekkala & Christopher Polk & Ruy Ribeiro, 2011. "Stock prices under pressure: how tax and interest rates drive returns at the turn of the tax year," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 43096, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

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