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What Will My Account Really Be Worth? An Experiment on Exponential Growth Bias and Retirement Saving

  • Gopi Shah Goda
  • Colleen Flaherty Manchester
  • Aaron Sojourner

Recent findings on limited financial literacy and exponential growth bias suggest saving decisions may not be optimal because such decisions require an accurate understanding of how current contributions can translate into income in retirement. This study uses a large-scale field experiment to measure how a low-cost, direct-mail intervention designed to inform subjects about this relationship affects their saving behavior. Using administrative data prior to and following the intervention, we measure its effect on participation and the level of contributions in retirement saving accounts. Those sent income projections along with enrollment information were more likely to change contribution levels and increase annual contributions relative to the control group. Among those who made a change in contribution, the increase in annual contributions was approximately $1,150. Results from a follow-up survey corroborate these findings and show heterogeneous effects of the intervention by rational and behavioral factors known to affect saving. Finally, we find evidence of behavioral influences on decision-making in that the assumptions used to generate the projections influence the saving response.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17927.

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Date of creation: Mar 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17927
Note: AG PE
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  1. Gary V. Engelhardt & Anil Kumar, 2004. "Employer Matching and 401(k) Saving: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College 2004-18, Center for Retirement Research.
  2. B. Douglas Bernheim & Andrey Fradkin & Igor Popov, 2011. "The Welfare Economics of Default Options in 401(k) Plans," NBER Working Papers 17587, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2005. "The importance of default options for retirement saving outcomes: evidence from the United States," CeRP Working Papers 43, Center for Research on Pensions and Welfare Policies, Turin (Italy).
  4. Gopi Shah Goda & Colleen Flaherty Manchester, 2010. "Incorporating Employee Heterogeneity into Default Rules for Retirement Plan Selection," NBER Working Papers 16099, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Jonathan Skinner, 2007. "Are You Sure You're Saving Enough for Retirement?," NBER Working Papers 12981, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Olivia S. Mitchell & Gary R. Mottola & Stephen P. Utkus & Takeshi Yamaguchi, 2009. "Default, Framing and Spillover Effects: The Case of Lifecycle Funds in 401(k) Plans," NBER Working Papers 15108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Victor Stango & Jonathan Zinman, 2009. "Exponential Growth Bias and Household Finance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 64(6), pages 2807-2849, December.
  8. Annamaria Lusardi & Punam Anand Keller & Adam M. Keller, 2009. "New Ways to Make People Save: A Social Marketing Approach," NBER Working Papers 14715, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Jonathan Gruber, 2006. "A Tax-Based Estimate of the Elasticity of Intertemporal Substitution," NBER Working Papers 11945, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, 2002. "Limited Asset Market Participation and the Elasticity of Intertemporal Substitution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(4), pages 825-853, August.
  11. James J. Choi & Emily Haisley & Jennifer Kurkoski & Cade Massey, 2012. "Small Cues Change Savings Choices," NBER Working Papers 17843, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2005. "Reducing the Complexity Costs of 401(k) Participation Through Quick Enrollment(TM)," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000966, UCLA Department of Economics.
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