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Employee Decisions with Respect to 401(k) Plans: Evidence From Individual-Level Data

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  • Andrea L. Kusko
  • James M. Poterba
  • David W. Wilcox

Abstract

401(k) plans have been the most rapidly growing type of employer- provided pension plan during the last decade. This paper utilizes employee-level data from the 401(k) plan at a medium-sized U.S. manufacturing firm to analyze the participation and contribution decisions of workers eligible for this plan. Our analysis reveals two important features of 401(k) participant behavior. First, contribution decisions of eligible employees are relatively insensitive to the rate of employer matching on worker contributions. Most employees maintain the same participation status and contribution rate year after year, despite substantial changes in the employer's match rate at the firm we study. This suggests that employer matching may not be a critical factor in explaining the growth of 401(k) plans. Second, we find that institutional constraints on contributions, imposed either by the employer or by the IRS, are an extremely important influence on contributor behavior. About three quarters of eligible employees contributed at rates that place them at one of the 'corners' or 'kinks' in the 401(k) opportunity set. This finding must be recognized in any analysis of how changes in 401(k) plan provisions are likely to affect contribution levels.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrea L. Kusko & James M. Poterba & David W. Wilcox, 1994. "Employee Decisions with Respect to 401(k) Plans: Evidence From Individual-Level Data," NBER Working Papers 4635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4635
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Shiller, Robert J., 1999. "Human behavior and the efficiency of the financial system," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 20, pages 1305-1340, Elsevier.
    2. Olivia S. Mitchell & James F. Moore, "undated". "Retirement Wealth Accumulation and Decumulation: New Developments and Outstanding Opportunities," Pension Research Council Working Papers 97-8, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    3. Poterba, James M. & Venti, Steven F. & Wise, David A., 1995. "Do 401(k) contributions crowd out other personal saving?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 1-32, September.
    4. Esther Duflo & William Gale & Jeffrey Liebman & Peter Orszag & Emmanuel Saez, 2006. "Saving Incentives for Low- and Middle-Income Families: Evidence from a Field Experiment with H&R Block," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1311-1346.
    5. Eric M. Engen & William G. Gale, 2000. "The Effects of 401(k) Plans on Household Wealth: Differences Across Earnings Groups," NBER Working Papers 8032, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1995. "Economic Implications of Changing Share Ownership," NBER Working Papers 5141, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Bernheim, B. Douglas, 2002. "Taxation and saving," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 18, pages 1173-1249, Elsevier.
    8. Joulfaian, David & Richardson, David, 2001. "Who Takes Advantage of Tax-Deferred Savings Programs? Evidence from Federal Income Tax Data," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 3), pages 669-88, September.
    9. Mark H. Robson, 1995. "Taxation and household saving: reflections on the OECD report," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 16(1), pages 38-57, February.
    10. Mark Schreiner & Michael Sherraden & Margaret Clancy & Lissa Johnson & Jami Curley & Min Zahn & Sondra Beverly & Michal Grinstein-Weiss, 2001. "Asset Accumulation in Low-Resource Households: Evidence from Individual Development Accounts," Microeconomics 0108001, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 27 Dec 2001.
    11. Hassan, M. Kabir & Lawrence, Shari, 2001. "The decision to defer: factors affecting employee deferral incentives," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 10(1-4), pages 45-54.
    12. Duflo, Esther & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "Participation and investment decisions in a retirement plan: the influence of colleagues' choices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1), pages 121-148, July.
    13. Hsuan-Chi Chen & Christine W. Lai & Sheng-Ching Wu, 2016. "Plan-Level and Firm-Level Attributes and Employees' Contributions to 401(k) Plans," International Journal of Business and Economics, School of Management Development, Feng Chia University, Taichung, Taiwan, vol. 15(1), pages 17-33, June.
    14. Bassett, William F. & Fleming, Michael J. & Rodrigues, Anthony P., 1998. "How Workers Use 401(K) Plans: The Participation, Contribution, and Withdrawal Decisions," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 51(2), pages 263-289, June.
    15. William F. Bassett, 1995. "Defined contribution plans: the role of income, age and match rates," Research Paper 9517, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    16. Papke, Leslie E. & Poterba, James M., 1995. "Survey evidence on employer match rates and employee saving behavior in 401(k) plans," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 313-317, September.
    17. Alessie, Rob & Hochguertel, Stefan & van Soest, Arthur, 2006. "Non-take-up of tax-favored savings plans: Evidence from Dutch employees," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 483-501, August.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs

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