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Lifecycle Asset Allocation Strategies and the Distribution of 401(k) Retirement Wealth

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  • James Poterba
  • Joshua Rauh
  • Steven Venti
  • David Wise

Abstract

This paper examines how different asset allocation strategies over the course of a worker's career affect the distribution of retirement wealth and the expected utility of wealth at retirement. It considers both rules that allocate a constant portfolio fraction to various assets at all ages, as well as "lifecycle" rules that vary the mix of portfolio assets as the worker ages. The analysis simulates retirement wealth using asset returns that are drawn from the historical return distribution. The results suggest that the distribution of retirement wealth associated with typical lifecycle investment strategies is similar to that from age-invariant asset allocation strategies that set the equity share of the portfolio equal to the average equity share in the lifecycle strategies. There is substantial variation across workers with different characteristics in the expected utility from following different asset allocation strategies. The expected utility associated with different 401(k) asset allocation strategies, and the ranking of these strategies, is very sensitive to three parameters: the expected return on corporate stock, the worker's relative risk aversion, and the amount of non-401(k) wealth that the worker will have available at retirement. At modest levels of risk aversion, or in the presence of substantial non-401(k) wealth at retirement, the historical pattern of stock and bond returns implies that the expected utility of an all-stock investment allocation rule is greater than that from any of the more conservative strategies. Higher risk aversion or lower expected returns on stocks raise the expected utility of following lifecycle strategies or other strategies that reduce equity exposure throughout the lifetime.

Suggested Citation

  • James Poterba & Joshua Rauh & Steven Venti & David Wise, 2006. "Lifecycle Asset Allocation Strategies and the Distribution of 401(k) Retirement Wealth," NBER Working Papers 11974, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11974 Note: AG PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Robert J. Willis, 2010. "Comment on "The Rise of 401(k) Plans, Lifetime Earnings, and Wealth at Retirement"," NBER Chapters,in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 304-309 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Andrew A. Samwick, 2009. "Changing Progressivity as a Means of Risk Protection in Investment-Based Social Security," NBER Chapters,in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 299-327 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Andrey Kudryavtsev & Shosh Shahrabani & Yaniv Azoulay, 2017. "Frequency of Adjusting Asset Allocations in the Life-Cycle Pension Model: When Doing More Is Not Necessarily Better," Bulletin of Applied Economics, Risk Market Journals, vol. 4(1), pages 13-33.
    4. International Monetary Fund, 2007. "Republic of Poland; Financial Sector Assessment Program-Technical Note-Competition and Performance in the Polish Second Pillar," IMF Staff Country Reports 07/104, International Monetary Fund.
    5. Robert J. Willis, 2009. "Comment on "Lifecycle Asset Allocation Strategies and the Distribution of 401(k) Retirement Wealth"," NBER Chapters,in: Developments in the Economics of Aging, pages 50-56 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2008. "New Estimates of the Future Path of 401(k) Assets," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 22, pages 43-80 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Basu, Anup K. & Drew, Michael E., 2010. "The appropriateness of default investment options in defined contribution plans: Australian evidence," Pacific-Basin Finance Journal, Elsevier, pages 290-305.
    8. World Bank & International Monetary Fund, 2006. "Financial Sector Assessment Program Update : Republic of Poland - Competition and Performance in the Polish Second Pillar," World Bank Other Operational Studies 16052, The World Bank.
    9. Zvi Bodie & Jérôme Detemple & Marcel Rindisbacher, 2009. "Life-Cycle Finance and the Design of Pension Plans," Annual Review of Financial Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 249-286, November.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors

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