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Lifecycle Asset Allocation Strategies and the Distribution of 401(k) Retirement Wealth

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  • James Poterba
  • Joshua Rauh
  • Steven Venti
  • David Wise

Abstract

This paper examines how different asset allocation strategies over the course of a worker's career affect the distribution of retirement wealth and the expected utility of wealth at retirement. It considers both rules that allocate a constant portfolio fraction to various assets at all ages, as well as "lifecycle" rules that vary the mix of portfolio assets as the worker ages. The analysis simulates retirement wealth using asset returns that are drawn from the historical return distribution. The results suggest that the distribution of retirement wealth associated with typical lifecycle investment strategies is similar to that from age-invariant asset allocation strategies that set the equity share of the portfolio equal to the average equity share in the lifecycle strategies. There is substantial variation across workers with different characteristics in the expected utility from following different asset allocation strategies. The expected utility associated with different 401(k) asset allocation strategies, and the ranking of these strategies, is very sensitive to three parameters: the expected return on corporate stock, the worker's relative risk aversion, and the amount of non-401(k) wealth that the worker will have available at retirement. At modest levels of risk aversion, or in the presence of substantial non-401(k) wealth at retirement, the historical pattern of stock and bond returns implies that the expected utility of an all-stock investment allocation rule is greater than that from any of the more conservative strategies. Higher risk aversion or lower expected returns on stocks raise the expected utility of following lifecycle strategies or other strategies that reduce equity exposure throughout the lifetime.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11974.

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Date of creation: Jan 2006
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Publication status: published as Wise, David (ed.) Developments in the Economics of Aging. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11974

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  1. James M. Poterba & Andrew Samwick, 2001. "Household Portfolio Allocation over the Life Cycle," NBER Chapters, in: Aging Issues in the United States and Japan, pages 65-104 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Alexander Michaelides & Francisco J. Gomes, 2005. "Optimal life cycle asset allocation : understanding the empirical evidence," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 193, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  3. James M. Poterba & Joshua Rauh & Steven F. Venti, 2005. "Utility Evaluation of Risk in Retirement Saving Accounts," NBER Chapters, in: Analyses in the Economics of Aging, pages 13-58 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Gollier, Christian & Zeckhauser, Richard J, 2002. " Horizon Length and Portfolio Risk," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 24(3), pages 195-212, May.
  5. James M. Poterba, 2003. "Employer Stock and 401(k) Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 398-404, May.
  6. Zvi Bodie & Robert C. Merton & William F. Samuelson, 1992. "Labor Supply Flexibility and Portfolio Choice in a Life-Cycle Model," NBER Working Papers 3954, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Gomes, Francisco J & Michaelides, Alexander, 2005. "Optimal Life-Cycle Asset Allocation: Understanding the Empirical Evidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 4853, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  11. Christian Gollier, 2004. "The Economics of Risk and Time," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262572249, December.
  12. Robert J. Shiller, 2005. "The Life-Cycle Personal Accounts Proposal for Social Security: A Review," NBER Working Papers 11300, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Campbell, John Y. & Viceira, Luis M., 2002. "Strategic Asset Allocation: Portfolio Choice for Long-Term Investors," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198296942, September.
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  16. João Cocco & Francisco Gomes & Pascal Maenhout, 1998. "Consumption and Portfolio Choice over the Life-Cycle," Center for Economic Studies - Discussion papers ces9805, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Centrum voor Economische Studiën.
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  20. Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2004. "Aging and Housing Equity: Another Look," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 127-180 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    • Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Basu, Anup K. & Drew, Michael E., 2010. "The appropriateness of default investment options in defined contribution plans: Australian evidence," Pacific-Basin Finance Journal, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 290-305, June.
  2. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2008. "New Estimates of the Future Path of 401(k) Assets," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 22, pages 43-80 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Zvi Bodie & J�r�me Detemple & Marcel Rindisbacher, 2009. "Life-Cycle Finance and the Design of Pension Plans," Annual Review of Financial Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 249-286, November.
  4. Andrew A. Samwick, 2009. "Changing Progressivity as a Means of Risk Protection in Investment-Based Social Security," NBER Chapters, in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 299-327 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. World Bank & International Monetary Fund, 2006. "Financial Sector Assessment Program Update : Republic of Poland - Competition and Performance in the Polish Second Pillar," World Bank Other Operational Studies 16052, The World Bank.
  6. Robert J. Willis, 2009. "Comment on "Lifecycle Asset Allocation Strategies and the Distribution of 401(k) Retirement Wealth"," NBER Chapters, in: Developments in the Economics of Aging, pages 50-56 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Robert J. Willis, 2010. "Comment on "The Rise of 401(k) Plans, Lifetime Earnings, and Wealth at Retirement"," NBER Chapters, in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 304-309 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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