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Why Are Companies Freezing Their Pensions?

Author

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  • Alicia H. Munnell

    (Center for Retirment Research at Boston College)

  • Mauricio Soto

Abstract

Defined benefit plans in the private sector are on the decline. And the early 21st century produced an uptick in the pace of decline driven by the financially devastating impact of the ‘perfect storm’ of plummeting stock prices and low interest rates, legislation that will require underfunded plans to increase their contributions, and accounting changes that will force fluctuations in pension finance onto the earnings statement and will likely eliminate the smoothing available under current rules. Increased volatility is not acceptable to corporate managers and may, in large part, explain why large healthy companies have taken steps to end their defined benefit plans. In an attempt to identify factors that led specific companies to freeze their plans, this paper explores the relationship between the probability that a plan was frozen and characteristics of the plan, the firm, and the industry. The results imply that plans where credit balances are high relative to income, legacy costs are substantial and funding ratios are low have a higher probability of being frozen. That makes sense in that plans with these characteristics are likely to have the most impact on future earnings under the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s expected reporting requirements. It is reasonable to expect more plans with these characteristics to freeze in the future.

Suggested Citation

  • Alicia H. Munnell & Mauricio Soto, 2007. "Why Are Companies Freezing Their Pensions?," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2007-22, Center for Retirement Research, revised Dec 2007.
  • Handle: RePEc:crr:crrwps:wp2007-22
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    File URL: http://crr.bc.edu/working-papers/why-are-companies-freezing-their-pensions/
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    Cited by:

    1. Barbara A. Butrica & Howard M. Iams & Karen E. Smith & Eric J. Toder, 2009. "The Disappearing Defined Benefit Pension and its Potential Impact on the Retirement Incomes of Boomers," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2009-2, Center for Retirement Research.
    2. Rauh, Joshua D. & Stefanescu, Irina & Zeldes, Stephen P., 2020. "Cost saving and the freezing of corporate pension plans," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 188(C).
    3. Kandice Kapinos, 2012. "Changes in Firm Pension Policy: Trends Away from Traditional Defined Benefit Plans," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 91-103, March.
    4. Bock, Sebastian & Forsyth, Peter & Niemeier, Hans-Martin & Mantin, Benny, 2019. "Chapter 11 and the level playing field: Should chapter 11 be considered as a subsidy?," Journal of Air Transport Management, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 39-46.
    5. James Poterba & Joshua Rauh & Steven Venti & David Wise, 2007. "Defined Contribution Plans, Defined Benefit Plans, and the Accumulation of Retirement Wealth," NBER Chapters, in: Public Policy and Retirement, Trans-Atlantic Public Economics Seminar (TAPES), pages 2062-2086, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Vafeas, Nikos & Vlittis, Adamos, 2018. "Independent directors and defined benefit pension plan freezes," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 505-518.
    7. Michael Kisser & John Kiff & Mauricio Soto, 2017. "Do Managers of U.S. Defined Benefit Pension Plan Sponsors Use Regulatory Freedom Strategically?," Journal of Accounting Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 55(5), pages 1213-1255, December.
    8. Cathy Beaudoin & Nandini Chandar & Edward M. Werner, 2010. "Are potential effects of SFAS 158 associated with firms' decisions to freeze their defined benefit pension plans?," Review of Accounting and Finance, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 9(4), pages 424-451, November.
    9. Charles Ellis & Alicia Munnell & Andrew Eschtruth, 2016. "Falling Short: The Roots of the Coming U.S. Retirement Crisis," Challenge, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 59(2), pages 126-147, March.
    10. Mitchell, O.S. & Piggott, J., 2016. "Workplace-Linked Pensions for an Aging Demographic," Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, in: Piggott, John & Woodland, Alan (ed.),Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 0, pages 865-904, Elsevier.
    11. Alicia H. Munnell & Jean-Pierre Aubry & Dan Muldoon, 2008. "The Financial Crisis and Private Defined Benefit Plans," Issues in Brief ib2008-8-18, Center for Retirement Research, revised Nov 2008.
    12. Ashby H. B. Monk, 2009. "Pension Buyouts: What Can We Learn From The UK Experience?," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2009-19, Center for Retirement Research, revised Sep 2009.
    13. Ashby H.B. Monk, 2009. "Pension Buyouts: What Can We Learn From the UK Experience?," Issues in Brief ib2009-9-21, Center for Retirement Research, revised Oct 2009.

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