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Optimal Defaults and Active Decisions

  • Gabriel D. Carroll
  • James J. Choi
  • David Laibson
  • Brigitte Madrian
  • Andrew Metrick

Defaults can have a dramatic influence on consumer decisions. We identify an overlooked but practical alternative to defaults: requiring individuals to make an explicit choice for themselves. We study such "active decisions" in the context of 401(k) saving. We find that compelling new hires to make active decisions about 401(k) enrollment raises the initial fraction that enroll by 28 percentage points relative to a standard opt-in enrollment procedure, producing a savings distribution three months after hire that would take three years to achieve under standard enrollment. We also present a model of 401(k) enrollment and characterize the optimal enrollment regime. Active decisions are optimal when consumers have a strong propensity to procrastinate and savings preferences that are highly heterogeneous. Naive beliefs about future time-inconsistency strengthen the normative appeal of the active-decision enrollment regime. However, financial illiteracy favors default enrollment over active decision enrollment.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11074.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11074.

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Date of creation: Jan 2005
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Publication status: published as Carroll, Gabriel D., James J. Choi, David Laibson, Brigitte C. Madrian, and Andrew Metrick. “Optimal Defaults and Active Decisions.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 124, 4 (November 2009).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11074
Note: AG LS PE
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  1. Choi, James & Madrian, Brigitte & Laibson, David I., 2010. "Why Does the Law of One Price Fail? An Experiment on Index Mutual Funds," Scholarly Articles 4686775, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2004. "For Better or for Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 81-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
  4. James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian, 2008. "$100 Bills on the Sidewalk: Suboptimal Investment in 401(K) Plans," Yale School of Management Working Papers amz2519, Yale School of Management, revised 01 Jul 2009.
  5. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Abadie, Alberto & Gay, Sebastien, 2004. "The Impact of Presumed Consent Legislation on Cadaveric Organ Donation: A Cross Country Study," Working Paper Series rwp04-024, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save More Tomorrow (TM): Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S164-S187, February.
  10. James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2005. "Optimal Defaults and Active Decisions," Levine's Bibliography 666156000000000488, UCLA Department of Economics.
  11. John Beshears & James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian, 2008. "Simplification and Saving," Yale School of Management Working Papers amz2392, Yale School of Management.
  12. Mark J. Warshawsky & John Ameriks, . "How Prepared Are Americans for Retirement?," Pension Research Council Working Papers 98-11, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  13. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "Defined Contribution Pensions: Plan Rules, Participant Decisions, and the Path of Least Resistance," JCPR Working Papers 257, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  14. Henrik Cronqvist & Richard H. Thaler, 2004. "Design Choices in Privatized Social-Security Systems: Learning from the Swedish Experience," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 424-428, May.
  15. Erik Hurst, 2004. "Grasshoppers, Ants and Pre-Retirement Wealth: A Test of Permanent Income Consumers," Working Papers wp088, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  16. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2004. "Consumption vs. Expenditure," NBER Working Papers 10307, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein, 2003. "Libertarian Paternalism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 175-179, May.
  18. Engen, Eric & Gale, William & Uccello, Cori, 1999. "The Adequacy of Household Saving," MPRA Paper 56442, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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