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Public Sector Pension Governance and Performance


  • Olivia S. Mitchell
  • Ping Lung Hsin


This paper investigates the determinants of public sector pension plan investment and funding behavior. Its goal is to draw lessons which may be used to improve the design and governance of public pensions. Plan performance is related to characteristics of the pension systems' governance structure and authority, using a new survey of U.S. state and local public pension plan governance practices and performance outcomes. The study suggests that most large public pension systems funded their plans satisfactorily in 1990, but some did not. Better public pension funding was associated with a pension system having in-house actuaries and when pension Board members were required to carry liability insurance. In contrast, public pension funding was lower when states experienced fiscal stress, and when employees were represented on the pension system Board. Pension funding did not appear sensitive to statutes guaranteeing benefits or funding levels, nor by the ability of states to carry budget deficits from one year to the next. The results also suggest that public pension Boards having more retiree-Trustees experienced lower investment returns, as did public sector pension plans required to devote a portion of their assets to in-state investments. Returns did not differ depending on whether a pension Board had in-house, or external money managers. No single set of pension plan management practices can optimize plan performance for all systems across all time periods. Nevertheless, these results suggest that care must be taken when designing the regulatory and investment environment in which these plans operate.

Suggested Citation

  • Olivia S. Mitchell & Ping Lung Hsin, 1994. "Public Sector Pension Governance and Performance," NBER Working Papers 4632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4632
    Note: AG AP LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Peter Diamond, 2004. "Social Security," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 1-24, March.
    2. Olivia S. Mitchell & Ping-Lung Hsin, "undated". "Public Pension Governance and Performance," Pension Research Council Working Papers 94-1, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    3. Annika E. Sunden & Olivia S. Mitchell, "undated". "An Examination of Social Security Administration Costs in the United States," Pension Research Council Working Papers 94-7, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael Useem & David Hess, "undated". "Governance and Investments of Public Pensions," Pension Research Council Working Papers 99-11, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    2. Wang, Yong & Mao, Connie X., 2015. "Shareholder activism of public pension funds: The political facet," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 138-152.
    3. Arrau, Patricio & Schmidt-Hebbel, Klaus, 1995. "Pensions systems and reform : country experiences and research issues," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1470, The World Bank.
    4. Munnell, Alicia H. & Aubry, Jean-Pierre & Quinby, Laura, 2011. "Public pension funding in practice," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(02), pages 247-268, April.
    5. Olivia S. Mitchell, 1998. "Administrative Costs in Public and Private Retirement Systems," NBER Chapters,in: Privatizing Social Security, pages 403-456 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Impavido, Gregorio & Musalem, Alberto R. & Vittas, Dimitri, 2002. "Contractual savings in countries with a small financial sector," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2841, The World Bank.
    7. Mitchell, Olivia S., 1993. "Publicpension governance and performance : lessons for developing countries," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1199, The World Bank.
    8. Olivia S. Mitchell & John Piggott & Cagri Kumru, 2008. "Managing Public Investment Funds: Best Practices and New Challenges," NBER Working Papers 14078, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Michael Useem & Olivia S. Mitchell, "undated". "Holders of the Purse Strings: Governance and Performance of Public Retirement Systems," Pension Research Council Working Papers 2000-3, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    10. Impavido, Gregorio, 2002. "On the governance of public pension fund management," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2878, The World Bank.
    11. Vittas, Dimitri & Impavido, Gregorio & O'Connor, Ronan, 2008. "Upgrading the investment policy framework of public pension funds," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4499, The World Bank.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • B00 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General - - - History of Economic Thought, Methodology, and Heterodox Approaches
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs


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