Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers

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Working Paper

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We assess the impact on savings behavior of several different 401(k) plan features, including automatic enrollment, automatic cash distributions, employer matching provisions, eligibility requirements, investment options, and financial education. We also present new survey evidence on individual savings adequacy. Many of our conclusions are based on an analysis of micro-level administrative data on the 401(k) savings behavior of employees in several large corporations that implemented changes in their 401(k) plan design. Our analysis identifies a key behavioral principle that should partially guide the design of 401(k) plans: employees often follow “the path of least resistance.” For better or for worse, plan administrators can manipulate the path of least resistance to powerfully influence the savings and investment choices of their employees.


We thank Hewitt Associates for their help in providing the data. We are particularly grateful to Lori Lucas and Jim McGhee, two of our many contacts at Hewitt. We also thank James Poterba and Olivia Mitchell for comments. Choi acknowledges financial support from a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Laibson and Madrian acknowledge financial support from the National Institute on Aging (R01-AG-16605 and R29-AG-013020 respectively). Laibson also acknowledges financial support from the MacArthur Foundation and Sloan Foundation.

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©2002 Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. All Rights Reserved.

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Economics Commons



Date Posted: 06 September 2019