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The Efficiency of Pension Menus and Individual Portfolio Choice in 401(k) Pensions


  • Ning Tang

    (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Olivia S. Mitchell

    (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Gary R. Mottola

    (Vanguard Center for Retirement Research)

  • Stephen P. Utkus

    (Vanguard Center for Retirement Research)


Though millions of US workers have 401(k) plans, few studies evaluate participant investment performance. Using data on over 1,000 401(k) plans and their participants, we identify key portfolio investment inefficiencies and attribute them to offered investment menus versus individual portfolio choices. We show that the vast majority of 401(k) plans offers reasonable investment menus. Nevertheless, participants “undo” the efficient menu and make substantial mistakes: in a 20-year career it will reduce retirement wealth by one-fifth, in fact, more than what a naive allocation strategy would yield. We outline implications for plan sponsors and participants seeking to enhance portfolio efficiency: don’t just offer or choose more funds, but help people invest smarter.

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  • Ning Tang & Olivia S. Mitchell & Gary R. Mottola & Stephen P. Utkus, 2009. "The Efficiency of Pension Menus and Individual Portfolio Choice in 401(k) Pensions," Working Papers wp203, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp203

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sewin Chan & Ann Huff Stevens, 2008. "What You Don't Know Can't Help You: Pension Knowledge and Retirement Decision-Making," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 253-266, May.
    2. 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.
    3. Mitchell, Olivia S, 1988. "Worker Knowledge of Pension Provisions," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(1), pages 21-39, January.
    4. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "Defined Contribution Pensions: Plan Rules, Participant Choices, and the Path of Least Resistance," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 16, pages 67-114 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. 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 617-645, September.
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