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The Inattentive Participant: Portfolio Trading Behavior in 401(k) Plans

Author

Listed:
  • Olivia S. Mitchell

    (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Gary R. Mottola

    (Vanguard Center for Retirement Research)

  • Stephen P. Utkus

    (Vanguard Center for Retirement Research)

  • Takeshi Yamaguchi

    (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

Abstract

Most workers in defined contribution retirement plans are inattentive portfolio managers: only a few engage in any trading at all, and only a tiny minority trades actively. Using a rich new dataset on 1.2 million workers in over 1,500 plans, we find that most 401(k) plan participants are characterized by profound inertia. Almost all participants (80%) initiate no trades, and an additional 11% makes only a single trade, in a two-year period. Even among traders, portfolio turnover rates are one-third the rate of professional money managers. Those who trade in their 401(k) plans are more affluent older men, with higher incomes and longer job tenure. They tend to use the internet for 401(k) account access, hold a larger number of investment options, and are more likely to hold active equity funds rather than index or lifecycle funds. Some plan features, including offering own-employer stock, also raise trading levels.

Suggested Citation

  • Olivia S. Mitchell & Gary R. Mottola & Stephen P. Utkus & Takeshi Yamaguchi, 2006. "The Inattentive Participant: Portfolio Trading Behavior in 401(k) Plans," Working Papers wp115, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp115
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    File URL: http://www.mrrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/pdf/wp115.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gervais, Simon & Odean, Terrance, 2001. "Learning to be Overconfident," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 14(1), pages 1-27.
    2. 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.
    3. Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Metrick, Andrew, 2002. "How does the Internet affect trading? Evidence from investor behavior in 401(k) plans," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(3), pages 397-421, June.
    4. William E. Even & David A. Macpherson, 2004. "Determinants and Effects of Employer Matching Contributions in 401(k) Plans," Labor and Demography 0405001, EconWPA.
    5. Brad M. Barber & Terrance Odean, 2000. "Trading Is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 55(2), pages 773-806, April.
    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. Brad M. Barber & Terrance Odean, 2001. "Boys will be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence, and Common Stock Investment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 261-292.
    8. 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.
    9. Brad M. Barber & Terrance Odean, 2002. "Online Investors: Do the Slow Die First?," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 15(2), pages 455-488, March.
    10. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2001. "Naive Diversification Strategies in Defined Contribution Saving Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 79-98, March.
    11. Paul A. Samuelson, 2011. "Lifetime Portfolio Selection by Dynamic Stochastic Programming," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: THE KELLY CAPITAL GROWTH INVESTMENT CRITERION THEORY and PRACTICE, chapter 31, pages 465-472 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    12. Douglas D. Bernheim, "undated". "Financial Illiteracy, Education, and Retirement Saving," Pension Research Council Working Papers 96-7, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
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    14. Terrance Odean, 1999. "Do Investors Trade Too Much?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1279-1298, December.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Santosh Anagol & Vimal Balasubramaniam & Tarun Ramadorai, 2016. "Endowment Effects in the Field: Evidence from India's IPO Lotteries," Natural Field Experiments 00551, The Field Experiments Website.
    2. Kim, Hugh H. & Maurer, Raimond & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2013. "Time is money: Life cycle rational inertia and delegation of investment management," CFS Working Paper Series 2013/08, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
    3. repec:eee:hapoch:v1_865 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian, 2008. "The Flypaper Effect in Individual Investor Asset Allocation," Yale School of Management Working Papers amz2560, Yale School of Management.
    5. Gerrans, Paul & Yap, Ghialy, 2014. "Retirement savings investment choices: Sophisticated or naive?," Pacific-Basin Finance Journal, Elsevier, vol. 30(C), pages 233-250.
    6. Spiegel, Matthew & Zhang, Hong, 2013. "Mutual fund risk and market share-adjusted fund flows," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 108(2), pages 506-528.
    7. Yannis Bilias & Dimitris Georgarakos & Michael Haliassos, 2010. "Portfolio Inertia and Stock Market Fluctuations," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 42(4), pages 715-742, June.
    8. repec:eee:pacfin:v:47:y:2018:i:c:p:150-165 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Kang, Johnny & Pekkala, Tapio & Polk, Christopher & Ribeiro, Ruy, 2011. "Stock prices under pressure: how tax and interest rates drive returns at the turn of the tax year," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 43096, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    10. Christian Weller, 2013. "Protecting Retirement Wealth," Challenge, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 56(4), pages 51-88.
    11. David Bravo Urrutia & Olivia S. Mitchell & Petra Todd, 2007. "Learning from the Chilean Experience: The Determinants of Pension Switching," Working Papers wp266, University of Chile, Department of Economics.
    12. Dvorak, Tomas & Hanley, Henry, 2010. "Financial literacy and the design of retirement plans," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 645-652, December.
    13. Johnson, Woodrow T., 2010. "Do investors trade uniformly through time?," Journal of Empirical Finance, Elsevier, vol. 17(4), pages 645-658, September.
    14. Ning Tang & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2008. "The Efficiency of Pension Plan Investment Menus: Investment Choices in Defined Contribution Pension Plans," Working Papers wp176, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    15. Jacqueline Volkman Wise, 2013. "Pension Portfolio Choice and Peer Envy," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 80(2), pages 461-489, June.
    16. Barber, Brad M. & Odean, Terrance, 2013. "The Behavior of Individual Investors," Handbook of the Economics of Finance, Elsevier.

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