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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. 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.
  2. 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.).
  3. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti, 2004. "The Transition to Personal Accounts and Increasing Retirement Wealth: Macro- and Microevidence," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 17-80 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Gary V. Engelhardt & Anil Kumar, 2007. "Employer matching and 401(k) saving: Evidence from the health and retirement study," NBER Chapters, in: Trans-Atlantic Public Economics Seminar (TAPES), Public Policy and Retirement, pages 1920-1943 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. William E. Even & David A. Macpherson, 2004. "Determinants and Effects of Employer Matching Contributions in 401(k) Plans," Labor and Demography 0405001, EconWPA.
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Cited by:
  1. Gary V. Engelhardt & Anil Kumar, 2006. "Employer Matching and 401(k) Saving: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Working Papers 12447, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  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. 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.
  6. 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.
  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. Takeshi Yamaguchi, 2006. "Understanding Trading Behavior in 401(k) Plans," Working Papers wp125, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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