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Turning Workers into Savers? Incentives, Liquidity, and Choice in 401(k) Plan Design

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  • Olivia S. Mitchell
  • Stephen P. Utkus
  • Tongxuan (Stella) Yang

Abstract

We develop a comprehensive model of 401(k) pension design that reflects the complex tax, savings, liquidity and investment incentives of such plans. Using a new dataset on some 500 plans covering nearly 740,000 workers, we show that employer matching contributions have only a modest impact on eliciting additional retirement saving. In the typical 401(k) plan, only 10 percent of non-highly-compensated workers are induced to save more by match incentives; and 30 percent fail to join their plan at all, despite the fact that the company-proffered match would grant them a real return premium of 1-5% above market rates if they contributed. Such indifference to retirement saving incentives cannot be attributed to liquidity or investment constraints. These results underscore the need for alternative approaches beyond matching contributions, if retirement saving is to become broader-based.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11726.

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Date of creation: Oct 2005
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Publication status: published as Mitchell, Olivia S., Steve Utkus, and Tongxuan (Stella) Yang. “Turning Workers into Savers? Incentives, Liquidity, and Choice in 401(k) Plan Design.” National Tax Journal 60 (September 2007): 469-89.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11726

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  1. Karen M. Pence, 2002. "Nature or nurture: why do 401(k) participants save differently than other workers?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2002-33, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  2. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2001. "The Transition to Personal Accounts and Increasing Retirement Wealth: Macro and Micro Evidence," NBER Working Papers 8610, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Engelhardt, Gary V. & Kumar, Anil, 2007. "Employer matching and 401(k) saving: Evidence from the health and retirement study," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(10), pages 1920-1943, November.
  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. Leslie E. Papke, 1992. "Participation in and Contributions to 401(k) Pension Plans: Evidence om Plan Data," NBER Working Papers 4199, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Papke, Leslie E. & Poterba, James M., 1995. "Survey evidence on employer match rates and employee saving behavior in 401(k) plans," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 313-317, September.
  7. Gur Huberman & Sheena Iyengar & Wei Jiang, 2007. "Defined Contribution Pension Plans: Determinants of Participation and Contributions Rates," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer, vol. 31(1), pages 1-32, February.
  8. 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.
  9. Cunningham, Christopher R. & Engelhardt, Gary V., 2002. "Federal Tax Policy, Employer Matching, and 401(k) Saving: Evidence from HRS W-2 Records," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 55(3), pages 617-45, September.
  10. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2004. "Plan Design and 401(k) Savings Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 10486, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. William E. Even & David A. Macpherson, 2004. "Determinants and Effects of Employer Matching Contributions in 401(k) Plans," Labor and Demography 0405001, EconWPA.
  12. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2004. "Saving or Retirement on the Path of Least Resistance," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000606, UCLA Department of Economics.
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Cited by:
  1. Gary V. Engelhardt & Anil Kumar, 2004. "Employer Matching and 401(k) Saving: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College 2004-18, Center for Retirement Research.
  2. Kosei Fukuda, 2007. "Age-period-cohort decomposition of social security taxes and benefits in the USA and Japan," International Economics and Economic Policy, Springer, vol. 4(3), pages 227-240, November.
  3. Engelhardt, Gary V. & Kumar, Anil, 2008. "Money on the table: Some evidence on the role of liquidity constraints in 401(k) saving," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 99(2), pages 402-404, May.
  4. Gur Huberman & Sheena Iyengar & Wei Jiang, 2007. "Defined Contribution Pension Plans: Determinants of Participation and Contributions Rates," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer, vol. 31(1), pages 1-32, February.
  5. Olivia S. Mitchell & Gary R. Mottola & Stephen P. Utkus & Takeshi Yamaguchi, 2006. "The Inattentive Participant: Portfolio Trading Behavior in 401(k) Plans," Working Papers wp115, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  6. Robert L. Clark & Jennifer A. Maki & Melinda Sandler Morrill, 2013. "Can Simple Informational Nudges Increase Employee Participation in a 401(k) Plan?," NBER Working Papers 19591, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Geng Li & Paul A. Smith, 2009. "New evidence on 401(k) borrowing and household balance sheets," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-19, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Nicolas R. Blancher & François Haas & John Kiff & Oksana Khadarina & Paul S. Mills & Parmeshwar Ramlogan & William Lee & Yoon Sook Kim & Todd Groome & Shinobu Nakagawa, 2006. "The Limits of Market-Based Risk Transfer and Implications for Managing Systemic Risks," IMF Working Papers 06/217, International Monetary Fund.
  9. Zhou, Jie, 2009. "The effects of employer matching and income risk in 401(k) plans," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 26(6), pages 1193-1200, November.
  10. Takeshi Yamaguchi, 2006. "Understanding Trading Behavior in 401(k) Plans," Working Papers wp125, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.

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