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Turning Workers into Savers? Incentives, Liquidity, and Choice in 401(k) Plan Design

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  • Olivia S. Mitchell
  • Stephen P. Utkus
  • Tongxuan (Stella) Yang

Abstract

We develop a comprehensive model of 401(k) pension design that reflects the complex tax, savings, liquidity and investment incentives of such plans. Using a new dataset on some 500 plans covering nearly 740,000 workers, we show that employer matching contributions have only a modest impact on eliciting additional retirement saving. In the typical 401(k) plan, only 10 percent of non-highly-compensated workers are induced to save more by match incentives; and 30 percent fail to join their plan at all, despite the fact that the company-proffered match would grant them a real return premium of 1-5% above market rates if they contributed. Such indifference to retirement saving incentives cannot be attributed to liquidity or investment constraints. These results underscore the need for alternative approaches beyond matching contributions, if retirement saving is to become broader-based.

Suggested Citation

  • Olivia S. Mitchell & Stephen P. Utkus & Tongxuan (Stella) Yang, 2005. "Turning Workers into Savers? Incentives, Liquidity, and Choice in 401(k) Plan Design," NBER Working Papers 11726, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11726 Note: AG LS PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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 275-298, June.
    2. William E. Even & David A. Macpherson, 2004. "Determinants and Effects of Employer Matching Contributions in 401(k) Plans," Labor and Demography 0405001, EconWPA.
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    4. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti, 2004. "The Transition to Personal Accounts and Increasing Retirement Wealth: Macro- and Microevidence," NBER Chapters,in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 17-80 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Engelhardt, Gary V. & Kumar, Anil, 2007. "Employer matching and 401(k) saving: Evidence from the health and retirement study," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 1920-1943.
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    8. Gur Huberman & Sheena Iyengar & Wei Jiang, 2007. "Defined Contribution Pension Plans: Determinants of Participation and Contributions Rates," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 31(1), pages 1-32, February.
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    10. 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.
    11. Julie Agnew & Pierluigi Balduzzi & Annika Sundén, 2003. "Portfolio Choice and Trading in a Large 401(k) Plan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 193-215, March.
    12. Karen M. Pence, 2002. "Nature or nurture: why do 401(k) participants save differently than other workers?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2002-33, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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    1. repec:eee:hapoch:v1_865 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:eee:eecrev:v:98:y:2017:i:c:p:32-48 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Engelhardt, Gary V. & Kumar, Anil, 2008. "Money on the table: Some evidence on the role of liquidity constraints in 401(k) saving," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 99(2), pages 402-404, May.
    4. Geng Li & Paul A. Smith, 2009. "New evidence on 401(k) borrowing and household balance sheets," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-19, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    5. Gary V. Engelhardt & Anil Kumar, 2007. "Employer Matching and 401(k) Saving: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Chapters,in: Public Policy and Retirement, Trans-Atlantic Public Economics Seminar (TAPES), pages 1920-1943 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. 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.
    7. Zhou, Jie, 2009. "The effects of employer matching and income risk in 401(k) plans," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 26(6), pages 1193-1200, November.
    8. Gur Huberman & Sheena Iyengar & Wei Jiang, 2007. "Defined Contribution Pension Plans: Determinants of Participation and Contributions Rates," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 31(1), pages 1-32, February.
    9. Nicolas R Blancher & François Haas & John Kiff & Oksana Khadarina & Paul S. Mills & Parmeshwar Ramlogan & William Lee & Yoon Sook Kim & Todd Groome & Shinobu Nakagawa, 2006. "The Limits of Market-Based Risk Transfer and Implications for Managing Systemic Risks," IMF Working Papers 06/217, International Monetary Fund.
    10. Kosei Fukuda, 2007. "Age-period-cohort decomposition of social security taxes and benefits in the USA and Japan," International Economics and Economic Policy, Springer, vol. 4(3), pages 227-240, November.
    11. Robert L. Clark & Jennifer A. Maki & Melinda Sandler Morrill, 2014. "Can Simple Informational Nudges Increase Employee Participation in a 401(k) Plan?," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 677-701, January.
    12. Takeshi Yamaguchi, 2006. "Understanding Trading Behavior in 401(k) Plans," Working Papers wp125, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    13. Keenan Dworak-Fisher, 2008. "Encouraging Participation in 401(k) Plans: Reconsidering the Employer Match," Working Papers 420, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions
    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors

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