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Aggregate Implications of Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution Systems


  • Alexander Michaelides
  • Francisco Gomes


Financing retirement benefits is probably the most significant fiscal challenge that governments in industrial economies will be facing in the next few decades. Social security reform has therefore become an important public policy issue for many countries and various reform proposals have been recently put forth. Given the importance of understanding the aggregate and welfare implications of different social security systems existing in the OECD, a number of recent papers have investigated the general equilibrium implications of social security reform. We follow this general equilibrium literature to analyze the aggregate and welfare implications of social security arrangements in the presence of empirically relevant market frictions and individual heterogeneity, taking care to explicitly embed in the model the main institutional, social security arrangements observed in OECD economies. Specifically, we compare the aggregate implications of defined benefit (DB) versus defined contribution (DC) systems and also investigate the economic outcomes from varying the generosity of a particular system. That is, we perform a comparison both between DB and DC systems but also within a particular system. We first broadly describe different social security systems that exist in OECD economies and attempt to classify them into categories with broadly similar institutional features. We then embed aspects of these institutional arrangements in a realistically calibrated general equilibrium life-cycle model to quantify the implications for aggregate saving and capital formation. We find that the insurance provided by a DB system can outweigh the efficiency cost from higher taxes to finance the DB payments. As a result, social welfare is maximized at positive DB provision levels. On the other hand, the fully-funded DC system that taxes an individual and offers the benefits during retirement depending on the interest rate and the individual's contributions, does not improve social (aggregate) welfare for any positive tax rate. There are two main reasons for this surprising result. First, the constraint that forces young workers to save through the DC account distorts the consumption-saving allocation sufficiently to generate consumption profiles for the poor that are substantially different from what they would have preferred in the absence of forced saving. Second, the models generate higher capital accumulation and a lower interest rate implying that saving for retirement (either through the DC or non-DC account) earns a lower rate of return that outweighs the positive effect of higher mean wages in the economy

Suggested Citation

  • Alexander Michaelides & Francisco Gomes, 2004. "Aggregate Implications of Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution Systems," 2004 Meeting Papers 335, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:335

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Henning Bohn, 2001. "Social Security and Demographic Uncertainty: The Risk-Sharing Properties of Alternative Policies," NBER Chapters,in: Risk Aspects of Investment-Based Social Security Reform, pages 203-246 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Karen E. Dynan & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2002. "The Importance of Bequests and Life-Cycle Saving in Capital Accumulation: A New Answer," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 274-278, May.
    3. Aiyagari, S Rao, 1995. "Optimal Capital Income Taxation with Incomplete Markets, Borrowing Constraints, and Constant Discounting," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(6), pages 1158-1175, December.
    4. MaCurdy, Thomas E., 1982. "The use of time series processes to model the error structure of earnings in a longitudinal data analysis," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 83-114, January.
    5. John Laitner, 2001. "Wealth Accumulation in the U.S.: Do Inheritances and Bequests Play a Significant Role?," Working Papers wp019, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    6. Juan C. Conesa & Dirk Krueger, 1999. "Social Security Reform with Heterogeneous Agents," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 2(4), pages 757-795, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Määttänen, Niku & Poutvaara, Panu, 2006. "Should Old-age Benefits Be Earnings-tested," Discussion Papers 1062, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy.

    More about this item


    General Equilibrium; Liquidity Constraints; Heterogeneous Agents; Undiversifiable Labor Income; Defined Benefit Systems; Defined Contribution Systems;

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions

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