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

  • James J. Choi

    (Yale University)

  • David Laibson

    (Harvard University)

  • Brigitte C. Madrian

    (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

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.

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File URL: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/Programs/ES/BPEA/2005_2_bpea_papers/2005b_bpea_choi.pdf
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Article provided by Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution in its journal Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Volume (Year): 36 (2005)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 151-214

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Handle: RePEc:bin:bpeajo:v:36:y:2005:i:2005-2:p:151-214
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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. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. "Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 443-74, October.
  5. Esther Duflo & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "The role of information and social interactions in retirement plan decisions: Evidence from a randomized experiment," Framed Field Experiments 00141, The Field Experiments Website.
  6. 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.
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