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Passive Decisions and Potent Defaults

In: Analyses in the Economics of Aging

  • James J. Choi
  • David Laibson
  • Brigitte C. Madrian
  • Andrew Metrick

Default options have an enormous impact on household choices.' Defaults matter because opting out of a default is costly and these costs change over time, generating an option value of waiting. In addition, people have a tendency to procrastinate. We develop a theory of optimal defaults based on these considerations. We find that it is sometimes optimal to set extreme defaults, which are far away from the mean optimal savings rate. A default that is far away from a consumer's optimal savings rate may make that consumer better off since such a bad' default will lead procrastinating consumers to more quickly opt out of the default. We calibrate our model and use it to calculate optimal defaults for employees at four different companies. Our work suggests that optimal defaults are likely to be at one of three savings rates: the minimum savings rate (i.e., 0%), the match threshold (typically 5% or 6%), or the maximal savings rate.

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This chapter was published in:
  • David A. Wise, 2005. "Analyses in the Economics of Aging," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise05-1.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10357.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10357
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    2. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "For Better or For Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," JCPR Working Papers 256, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    3. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. " Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
    4. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2001. "Defined Contribution Pensions: Plan Rules, Participant Decisions, and the Path of Least Resistance," NBER Working Papers 8655, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2003. "Optimal Defaults," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 180-185, May.
    6. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
    7. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2001. "THE POWER OF SUGGESTION: INERTIA IN 401(k) PARTICIPATION AND SAVINGS BEHAVIOR," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187, November.
    8. Richard Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save more tomorrow: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving," Natural Field Experiments 00337, The Field Experiments Website.
    9. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
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