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

  • Keenan Dworak-Fisher

    ()

    (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

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    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.

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    File URL: http://www.bls.gov/ore/pdf/ec080060.pdf
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    Paper provided by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its series Working Papers with number 420.

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    Length: 45 pages
    Date of creation: Nov 2008
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:bls:wpaper:ec080060
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    1. Duflo, Esther & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "Participation and investment decisions in a retirement plan: the influence of colleagues' choices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1), pages 121-148, July.
    2. Gary V. Engelhardt & Anil Kumar, 2006. "Employer Matching and 401(k) Saving: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Working Papers 12447, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Brady, Peter J., 2007. "Pension nondiscrimination rules and the incentive to cross subsidize employees," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(02), pages 127-145, July.
    7. 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, vol. 55(3), pages 617-45, September.
    8. 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.
    9. Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C., 2004. "Plan Design and 401(k) Savings Outcomes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 275-98, June.
    10. 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.
    11. Leslie E. Papke & Jeffrey M. Wooldridge, 1993. "Econometric Methods for Fractional Response Variables with an Application to 401(k) Plan Participation Rates," NBER Technical Working Papers 0147, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. 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.
    13. 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, vol. 51(n. 2), pages 263-89, June.
    14. Bernheim, B. Douglas & Garrett, Daniel M., 2003. "The effects of financial education in the workplace: evidence from a survey of households," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(7-8), pages 1487-1519, August.
    15. Papke, Leslie E., 2004. "Individual financial decisions in retirement saving plans: the role of participant-direction," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1-2), pages 39-61, January.
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