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Are Empowerment and Education Enough? Underdiversification in 401(k) Plans

Author

Listed:
  • James J. Choi

    (Yale University)

  • David Laibson

    (Harvard University)

  • Brigitte C. Madrian

    (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

Abstract

The collapse of Enron, WorldCom, and Global Crossing wiped out much of their employees’ 401(k) savings, which had been heavily invested in employer stock. In response, bills have been proposed in Congress that would give employees the right to sell the employer stock in their 401(k), or that would require companies to educate their workers about the risks of not doing so. We find that these empower-and-educate approaches are unlikely to significantly reduce 401(k) employer stock holdings. In six natural experiments in which employer stock holding requirements were relaxed, we find only a modest response. We also find that the publicity surrounding the 401(k) meltdowns at the above firms had little effect on employer stock holdings among workers from other firms: real-life lessons about underdiversification risks do not seem to translate well into action. We conclude by discussing alternative legislative approaches and general implications for savings policies and pension regulation.

Suggested Citation

  • James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2005. "Are Empowerment and Education Enough? Underdiversification in 401(k) Plans," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 36(2), pages 151-214.
  • Handle: RePEc:bin:bpeajo:v:36:y:2005:i:2005-2:p:151-214
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. J. Nellie Liang & Scott Weisbenner, 2002. "Investor behavior and the purchase of company stock in 401(k) plans - the importance of plan design," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2002-36, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    2. Esther Duflo & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "The Role of Information and Social Interactions in Retirement Plan Decisions: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(3), pages 815-842.
    3. Nellie Liang & Scott Weisbenner, 2002. "Investor Behavior and the Purchase of Company Stock in 401(k) Plans - The Importance of Plan Design," NBER Working Papers 9131, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. "Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
    5. Meulbroek, Lisa, 2005. "Company Stock in Pension Plans: How Costly Is It?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(2), pages 443-474, October.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Beshears, John & Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C., 2008. "How are preferences revealed?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 1787-1794.
    2. Julie S. Downs & George Loewenstein & Jessica Wisdom, 2009. "Strategies for Promoting Healthier Food Choices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 159-164.
    3. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2009. "Mental Accounting in Portfolio Choice: Evidence from a Flypaper Effect," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 2085-2095.
    4. Simonsohn, Uri & Karlsson, Niklas & Loewenstein, George & Ariely, Dan, 2008. "The tree of experience in the forest of information: Overweighing experienced relative to observed information," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 62(1), pages 263-286, January.
    5. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2009. "The Importance of Default Options for Retirement Saving Outcomes: Evidence from the United States," NBER Chapters,in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 167-195 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Huffman, Wallace, 2009. "Does Information Change Behavior?," Staff General Research Papers Archive 13128, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    7. Gopi Shah Goda & Colleen Flaherty Manchester, 2013. "Incorporating Employee Heterogeneity into Default Rules for Retirement Plan Selection," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 48(1), pages 198-235.
    8. Dvorak, Tomas & Hanley, Henry, 2010. "Financial literacy and the design of retirement plans," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 645-652, December.
    9. Greer Gosnell, 2017. "Be who you ought or be who you are? Environmental framing and cognitive dissonance in going paperless," GRI Working Papers 269, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
    10. Sumit Agarwal & John C. Driscoll & Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2009. "The Age of Reason: Financial Decisions over the Life Cycle and Implications for Regulation," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, pages 51-117.
    11. Chalmers, John & Johnson, Woodrow T. & Reuter, Jonathan, 2014. "The effect of pension design on employer costs and employee retirement choices: Evidence from Oregon," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 17-34.
    12. Chalmers, John & Johnson, Woodrow T. & Reuter, Jonathan, 2014. "The effect of pension design on employer costs and employee retirement choices: Evidence from Oregon," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 17-34.
    13. Barbara O’Neill, 2007. "Overcoming Inertia: Do Automated Saving and Investing Strategies Work?," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 28(2), pages 321-335, June.
    14. Zvi Bodie & Jérôme 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    macroeconomics; Empowerment; Education; Underdiversification; 401(k) Plans;

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors
    • G28 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Government Policy and Regulation

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