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The Law and Economics of Company Stock in 401(k) Plans


  • Benartzi, Shlomo
  • Thaler, Richard H
  • Utkus, Stephen P
  • Sunstein, Cass R


Some 11 million participants in 401(k) plans invest more than 20 percent of their retirement savings in their employer's stock. Yet investing in the stock of one's employer is risky: single securities are riskier than diversified portfolios, and an employee's human capital typically is positively correlated with the company's performance. In the worst-case scenario, workers can lose their jobs and much of their retirement wealth simultaneously. For workers who expect to work for a company for many years, a dollar of company stock can be valued at less than 50 cents after accounting for risk. However, employees still invest voluntarily in their employer's stock, and many employers insist on making matching contributions in stock. We provide evidence that employees underestimate the risk of owning company stock, while employers overestimate the benefits associated with employee stock ownership. We then analyze the likely effects of current and proposed regulations in this context.

Suggested Citation

  • Benartzi, Shlomo & Thaler, Richard H & Utkus, Stephen P & Sunstein, Cass R, 2007. "The Law and Economics of Company Stock in 401(k) Plans," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 50(1), pages 45-79, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:y:2007:v:50:i:1:p:45-79

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Douglas L. Kruse, 1993. "Profit Sharing: Does It Make a Difference?," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number ps, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Aubert, Nicolas & Garnotel, Guillaume & Lapied, André & Rousseau, Patrick, 2014. "Employee ownership: A theoretical and empirical investigation of management entrenchment vs. reward management," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 423-434.
    2. Schnellenbach, Jan, 2012. "Nudges and norms: On the political economy of soft paternalism," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 28(2), pages 266-277.
    3. James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian, 2008. "The Flypaper Effect in Individual Investor Asset Allocation," Yale School of Management Working Papers amz2560, Yale School of Management.
    4. Matthew Hood & John Nofsinger & Abhishek Varma, 2014. "Conservation, Discrimination, and Salvation: Investors’ Social Concerns in the Stock Market," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 45(1), pages 5-37, February.
    5. Nicolas Aubert & Alexander Kern & Xavier Hollandts, 2017. "Employee stock ownership and the cost of capital," Post-Print halshs-01502001, HAL.
    6. Thomas Rapp & Nicolas Aubert, 2011. "Bank Employee Incentives and Stock Purchase Plans Participation," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 40(3), pages 185-203, December.
    7. Kaplanski, Guy & Levy, Haim & Veld, Chris & Veld-Merkoulova, Yulia, 2016. "Past returns and the perceived Sharpe ratio," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 123(C), pages 149-167.
    8. 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, vol. 99(5), pages 2085-2095, December.
    9. repec:eee:riibaf:v:41:y:2017:i:c:p:67-78 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Djaoudath Alidou, 2011. "Les augmentations de capital réservées aux salariés en France - Employee Equity Issue:Evidence from France," Working Papers CREGO 1110603, Université de Bourgogne - CREGO EA7317 Centre de recherches en gestion des organisations.
    11. Xavier Hollandts & Nicolas Aubert & Abdelmehdi Abdelhamid & Victor Prieur, 2017. "Beyond Dichotomy: The Curvilinear Impact of Employee Ownership on CEO entrenchment," Working Papers halshs-01495427, HAL.
    12. Tang, Ning & Baker, Andrew, 2016. "Self-esteem, financial knowledge and financial behavior," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 164-176.
    13. repec:eee:jobhdp:v:140:y:2017:i:c:p:1-13 is not listed on IDEAS

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