IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Login to save this book chapter or follow this series

Defined Benefit versus Defined Contribution Pension Plans: What are the Real Trade-offs?

In: Pensions in the U.S. Economy

  • Zvi Bodie
  • Alan J. Marcus
  • Robert C. Merton

Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution plans have significantly different characteristics with respect to the risks faced by employers and employees, the sensitivity of benefits to inflation, the flexibility of funding, and the importance of governmental supervision. In this paper, we examine some of the main tradeoffs involved in the choice between DB and DC plans. Our most general conclusion is that neither plan type can be said to wholly dominate the other from the perspective of employee welfare.The major advantage of DB plans is the potential they offer to provide a stable replacement rate of final income to workers. If the replacement rate is the relevant variable for worker retirement utility, then DB plans offer some degree of insurance against real wage risk. Of course, protection offered to workers is risk borne by the firm. As real wages change, funding rates must correspondingly adjust. However, to the extent that real wage risk is largely diversifiable to employers, and nondiversifiable to employees, the replacement rate stability should be viewed as an advantage of DB plans. The advantages of DC plans are most apparent during periods of inflation uncertainty. These are: the predictability of the value of pension wealth, the ability to invest in inflation-hedged portfolios rather than nominal DB annuities,and the fully-funded nature of the DC plan. Finally, the DC plan has the advantage that workers can more easily determine the true present value of the pension benefit they earn in any year, although they may have more incertainty about future pension-benefit flows at retirement. Measuring the present value of accruing defined benefits is difficult at best and imposes severe informational requirements on workers. Such difficulties could lead workers to misvalue their total compensation, and result in misinformed behavior.

(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL: http://www.nber.org/chapters/c6047.pdf
Download Restriction: no

as
in new window

This chapter was published in:
  • Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven & David A. Wise, 1988. "Pensions in the U.S. Economy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi88-1, October.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 6047.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:6047
    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
    Email:


    More information through EDIRC

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    as in new window
    1. Peter A. Diamond & James Mirrlees, 1985. "Insurance Aspects of Pensions," NBER Chapters, in: Pensions, Labor, and Individual Choice, pages 317-356 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Bierwag, G O & Kaufman, George G, 1977. "Coping with the Risk of Interest-Rate Fluctuations: A Note," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 50(3), pages 364-70, July.
    3. Cox, John C & Ingersoll, Jonathan E, Jr & Ross, Stephen A, 1979. "Duration and the Measurement of Basis Risk," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(1), pages 51-61, January.
    4. Bulow, Jeremy I, 1982. "What Are Corporate Pension Liabilities?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(3), pages 435-52, August.
    5. Bierwag, G. O., 1977. "Immunization, Duration, and the Term Structure of Interest Rates," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(05), pages 725-742, December.
    6. Alan Marcus, 1987. "Corporate Pension Policy and the Value of PBGC Insurance," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in Pension Economics, pages 49-80 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Robert C. Merton & Zvi Bodie & Alan J. Marcus, 1984. "Pension Plan Integration as Insurance Against Social Security Risk," NBER Working Papers 1370, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Robert C. Merton, 1981. "On the Role of Social Security as a Means for Efficient Risk-Bearing in an Economy Where Human Capital Is Not Tradeable," NBER Working Papers 0743, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:6047. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.