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Individual account investment options and portfolio choice: Behavioral lessons from 401(k) plans

  • Brown, Jeffrey R.
  • Liang, Nellie
  • Weisbenner, Scott

This paper examines how the menu of investment options made available to workers in defined contribution plans influences portfolio choice. Using unique panel data of 401(k) plans in the U.S., we present three principle findings. First, we show that the share of investment options in a particular asset class (i.e., company stock, equities, fixed income, and balanced funds) has a significant effect on aggregate participant portfolio allocations across these asset classes. Second, we document that the vast majority of the new funds added to 401(k) plans are high-cost actively managed equity funds, as opposed to lower-cost equity index funds. Third, because the average share of assets invested in low-cost equity index funds declines with an increase in the number of options, average portfolio expenses increase and average portfolio performance is thus depressed. All of these findings are obtained from a panel data set, enabling us to control for heterogeneity in the investment preferences of workers across firms and across time.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Public Economics.

Volume (Year): 91 (2007)
Issue (Month): 10 (November)
Pages: 1992-2013

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Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:91:y:2007:i:10:p:1992-2013
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  1. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2000. "The Power of Suggestion: Inertia in 401(k) Participation and Savings Behavior," NBER Working Papers 7682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Agnew, Julie R., 2006. "Do Behavioral Biases Vary across Individuals? Evidence from Individual Level 401(k) Data," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(04), pages 939-962, December.
  3. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2004. "For Better or for Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 81-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Choi, James & Madrian, Brigitte & Laibson, David I., 2010. "Why Does the Law of One Price Fail? An Experiment on Index Mutual Funds," Scholarly Articles 4686775, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  5. Malkiel, Burton G, 1995. " Returns from Investing in Equity Mutual Funds 1971 to 1991," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 50(2), pages 549-72, June.
  6. Daniel, Kent, et al, 1997. " Measuring Mutual Fund Performance with Characteristic-Based Benchmarks," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 52(3), pages 1035-58, July.
  7. Jeffrey R. Brown & J. Nellie Liang & Scott Weisbenner, 2004. "401(k) matching contributions in company stock: costs and benefits for firms and workers," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2004-23, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. "Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
  9. Michael C. Jensen, 1968. "The Performance Of Mutual Funds In The Period 1945–1964," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 23(2), pages 389-416, 05.
  10. Gur Huberman & Paul Sengmueller, 2004. "Performance and Employer Stock in 401(k) Plans," Review of Finance, European Finance Association, vol. 8(3), pages 403-443.
  11. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2004. "Employees' Investment Decisions about Company Stock," NBER Working Papers 10228, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Shlomo Benartzi, 2001. "Excessive Extrapolation and the Allocation of 401(k) Accounts to Company Stock," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 56(5), pages 1747-1764, October.
  13. Gur Huberman & Paul Sengmueller, 2004. "Performance and Employer Stock in 401(k) Plans," Review of Finance, Springer, vol. 8(3), pages 403-443.
  14. Carhart, Mark M, 1997. " On Persistence in Mutual Fund Performance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 52(1), pages 57-82, March.
  15. Julie Agnew & Pierluigi Balduzzi & Annika Sundén, 2003. "Portfolio Choice and Trading in a Large 401(k) Plan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 193-215, March.
  16. Gur Huberman & Sheena Iyengar & Wei Jiang, 2007. "Defined Contribution Pension Plans: Determinants of Participation and Contributions Rates," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 31(1), pages 1-32, February.
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