Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

The Power of Suggestion: Inertia in 401(k) Participation and Savings Behavior

Contents:

Author Info

  • Brigitte C. Madrian
  • Dennis F. Shea

Abstract

In this paper, we analyze the 401(k) savings behavior of employees in a large U.S. corporation before and after an interesting change in the company 401(k) plan. Before the plan change, employees were required to affirmatively elect participation in the 401(k) plan. After the plan change, employees were automatically and immediately enrolled in the 401(k) plan unless they made a negative election to opt out of the plan. Although none of the economic features of the plan changed, this switch to automatic enrollment dramatically changed the savings behavior of employees. We have two key findings. First, 401(k) participation is significantly higher under automatic enrollment. Second, the default contribution rate and investment allocation chosen by the company under automatic enrollment has a strong influence on the savings behavior of 401(k) participants. A substantial fraction of 401(k) participants hired under automatic enrollment exhibit what we call default' behavior--sticking to both the default contribution rate and the default fund allocation even though very few employees hired before automatic enrollment picked this particular outcome. This default' behavior appears to result both from participant inertia and from many employees taking the default as investment advice on the part of the company. Overall, these results are consistent with the notion that large changes in savings behavior can be motivated simply by the power of suggestion.' These findings have important implications for the optimal design of 401(k) savings plans as well as for any type of Social Security reform that includes personal accounts over which individuals have some amount of control. They also shed light more generally on the importance of both economic and non-economic factors in the determination of individual savings behavior.

Download Info

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w7682.pdf
Download Restriction: no

Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7682.

as in new window
Length:
Date of creation: May 2000
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Madrian, Brigitte C. and Dennis F. Shea. "The Power Of Suggestion: Inertia In 401(k) Participation And Savings Behavior," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2001, v116(4,Nov), 1149-1187.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7682

Note: AG PE
Contact details of provider:
Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Email:
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC

Related research

Keywords:

Other versions of this item:

Find related papers by JEL classification:

This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

References

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
as in new window
  1. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  2. R. Glenn Hubbard & Jonathan S. Skinner, 1996. "Assessing the Effectiveness of Saving Incentives," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 73-90, Fall.
  3. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1996. "Rethinking Saving Incentives," Working Papers 96009, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  4. William F. Bassett & Michael J. Fleming & Anthony P. Rodrigues, 1998. "How workers use 401(k) plans: the participation, contribution, and withdrawal decisions," Staff Reports 38, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  5. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1996. "Personal Retirement Saving Programs and Asset Accumulation: Reconciling the Evidence," NBER Working Papers 5599, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Discussion Papers 96-01, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  7. Thaler, Richard H, 1994. "Psychology and Savings Policies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 186-92, May.
  8. 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.
  9. Eric M. Engen & William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1994. "Do Saving Incentives Work?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 25(1), pages 85-180.
  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. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1992. "401(k) Plans and Tax-Deferred Saving," NBER Working Papers 4181, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. David I. Laibson & Andrea Repetto & Jeremy Tobacman, 1998. "Self-Control and Saving for Retirement," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 29(1), pages 91-196.
  13. Daniel Kahneman & Jack L. Knetsch & Richard H. Thaler, 1991. "Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 193-206, Winter.
  14. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. " Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
  15. Eric M. Engen & William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1996. "The Illusory Effects of Saving Incentives on Saving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 113-138, Fall.
  16. B. Douglas Bernheim & Daniel M. Garrett, 1996. "The Determinants and Consequences of Financial Education in the Workplace: Evidence from a Survey of Households," Working Papers 96007, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  17. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1996. "How Retirement Saving Programs Increase Saving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 91-112, Fall.
  18. O'Donoghue, Ted & Rabin, Matthew, 1997. "Doing It Now or Later," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt7t44m5b0, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  19. Akerlof, George A, 1991. "Procrastination and Obedience," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(2), pages 1-19, May.
  20. Johnson, Eric J, et al, 1993. " Framing, Probability Distortions, and Insurance Decisions," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 7(1), pages 35-51, August.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

Citations

Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Nudge Database II
    by Mark Egan in Economics, Psychology and Policy on 2013-03-24 17:43:00





  2. This is a list of empirical ‘nudges’ and their sources

    by Liam Delaney in Economics and Psychology Research on 2013-03-24 16:23:00


  3. This is a list of empirical ‘nudges’ and their sources with a

    by Liam Delaney in Economics and Psychology Research on 2013-03-24 16:11:00
Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
as in new window

Cited by:
This item has more than 25 citations. To prevent cluttering this page, these citations are listed on a separate page.

Lists

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

Statistics

Access and download statistics

Corrections

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7682. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.