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Encouraging Participation in 401(k) Plans: Reconsidering the Employer Match

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  • Keenan Dworak-Fisher

    () (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Abstract

This study offers new evidence on the effects of plan provisions on 401(k) participation rates, exploiting microdata from the National Compensation Survey, a large, nationally representative, establishment dataset. In particular, it closely considers the observed effects of the matching contributions made by employers to plan accounts, and makes direct comparisons between these effects and those of other plan provisions thought to affect participation: the availability of participant control over plan investment allocations; the option of drawing loans from plan accounts; and, especially, the institution of automatic enrollment in plans. The study first places these effects within a broadly sketched theoretical model in which plan participation and the match rate are jointly determined. This model puts results from the previous literature into context and helps define the “treatment effects” that different parties may find of interest. It then addresses the potential endogeneity affecting measurement of these treatment effects by employing several different techniques: adding previously unused controls; distinguishing between different dimensions of the match; and employing instrumental variables. The results of this analysis indicate that the effects of plan provisions vary dramatically between different income groups. The results among workers in the lowest income group comport with a growing consensus in the literature: employer matches have little or no effect on participation, while automatic enrollment has dramatic effects. But among workers in the middle income group, employer matches have substantial effects that may be larger than the effects of automatic enrollment.

Suggested Citation

  • Keenan Dworak-Fisher, 2008. "Encouraging Participation in 401(k) Plans: Reconsidering the Employer Match," Working Papers 420, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Handle: RePEc:bls:wpaper:ec080060
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C., 2004. "Plan Design and 401(K) Savings Outcomes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 57(2), pages 275-298, June.
    2. Gary V. Engelhardt & Anil Kumar, 2007. "Employer Matching and 401(k) Saving: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Chapters,in: Public Policy and Retirement, Trans-Atlantic Public Economics Seminar (TAPES), pages 1920-1943 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Richard A. Ippolito, 2002. "Stayers as "Workers" and "Savers": Toward Reconciling the Pension-Quit Literature," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(2), pages 275-308.
    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. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2010. "The Impact of Employer Matching on Savings Plan Participation under Automatic Enrollment," NBER Chapters,in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 311-327 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Mitchell, Olivia S. & Utkus, Stephen P. & Yang, Tongxuan (Stella), 2007. "Turning Workers Into Savers? Incentives, Liquidity, and Choice in 401(K) Plan Design," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 60(3), pages 469-489, September.
    7. Patrick J. Bayer & B. Douglas Bernheim & John Karl Scholz, 2009. "The Effects Of Financial Education In The Workplace: Evidence From A Survey Of Employers," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 47(4), pages 605-624, October.
    8. Papke, Leslie E & Wooldridge, Jeffrey M, 1996. "Econometric Methods for Fractional Response Variables with an Application to 401(K) Plan Participation Rates," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 11(6), pages 619-632, Nov.-Dec..
    9. Bassett, William F. & Fleming, Michael J. & Rodrigues, Anthony P., 1998. "How Workers Use 401(K) Plans: The Participation, Contribution, and Withdrawal Decisions," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 51(2), pages 263-289, June.
    10. Cunningham, Christopher R. & Engelhardt, Gary V., 2002. "Federal Tax Policy, Employer Matching, and 401(K) Saving: Evidence From HRS W-2 Records," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 55(3), pages 617-645, September.
    11. John Shea, 1997. "Instrument Relevance in Multivariate Linear Models: A Simple Measure," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(2), pages 348-352, May.
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    16. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2001. "The Power of Suggestion: Inertia in 401(k) Participation and Savings Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Teresa Ghilarducci & Joelle Saad-Lessler & Gayle Reznik, 2017. "Earnings Volatility and 401(k) Contributions," SCEPA working paper series. SCEPA's main areas of research are macroeconomic policy, inequality and poverty, and globalization. 2017-07, Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA), The New School.
    2. Ramnath, Shanthi, 2013. "Taxpayers' responses to tax-based incentives for retirement savings: Evidence from the Saver's Credit notch," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 77-93.
    3. Butrica, Barbara A. & Karamcheva, Nadia S, 2015. "Automatic Enrollment, Employer Match Rates and Employee Compensation in 401(k) Plans," IZA Discussion Papers 8807, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    401(k); Employer Match;

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods

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