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Employee Decisions with Respect to 401(k) Plans: Evidence From Individual-Level Data

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  • Andrea L. Kusko
  • James M. Poterba
  • David W. Wilcox

Abstract

401(k) plans have been the most rapidly growing type of employer- provided pension plan during the last decade. This paper utilizes employee-level data from the 401(k) plan at a medium-sized U.S. manufacturing firm to analyze the participation and contribution decisions of workers eligible for this plan. Our analysis reveals two important features of 401(k) participant behavior. First, contribution decisions of eligible employees are relatively insensitive to the rate of employer matching on worker contributions. Most employees maintain the same participation status and contribution rate year after year, despite substantial changes in the employer's match rate at the firm we study. This suggests that employer matching may not be a critical factor in explaining the growth of 401(k) plans. Second, we find that institutional constraints on contributions, imposed either by the employer or by the IRS, are an extremely important influence on contributor behavior. About three quarters of eligible employees contributed at rates that place them at one of the 'corners' or 'kinks' in the 401(k) opportunity set. This finding must be recognized in any analysis of how changes in 401(k) plan provisions are likely to affect contribution levels.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4635.

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Date of creation: Feb 1994
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Publication status: published as in Olivia Mitchell and Syllvester Schieber, eds., Living with Defined Contribution Pensions: Remaking Responsibility for Retirement. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4635

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  1. Jerry A. Hausman, 1983. "Taxes and Labor Supply," NBER Working Papers 1102, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven & David A. Wise, 1987. "Issues in Pension Economics," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi87-1, October.
  3. Leslie E. Papke, 1995. "Participation in and Contributions to 401(k) Pension Plans: Evidence from Plan Data," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 311-325.
  4. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1993. "Do 401(k) Contributions Crowd Out Other Persoanl Saving?," NBER Working Papers 4391, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & David A. Wise, 1987. "The Incentive Effects of Private Pension Plans," NBER Working Papers 1510, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Poterba, J.M. & Venti, S.F. & Wise, D.A., 1992. "401(k) Plans and Tax-Deferred Savings," Working papers 92-14, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  7. James H. Stock & David A. Wise, 1988. "The Pension Inducement to Retire: An Option Value Analysis," NBER Working Papers 2660, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Moffitt, Robert, 1990. "The Econometrics of Kinked Budget Constraints," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 119-39, Spring.
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