Center for Retirement Research Pivots on 401(k)s In New Paper


Research conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has traditionally suggested that the trend of shifting from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans harms retirement security and savings.

But in a new paper, Center director Alicia Munnel says new research has led her organization to change their tune: the paper says that retirement savings have not been harmed by the shift to DC from DB.

The paper does acknowledge, however, that DC plans shift risk to the participant.

BenefitsPro summarizes the findings:

The Center and its director, Alicia Munnell, have been producing data for years showing that the shift to 401(k) plans was resulting in less retirement savings.

The new paper looks at data on defined benefit accrual rates from the National Income and Product Accounts between 1984 and 2012 and compares those rates with defined contribution assets over the same period.

Munnell and her team of researchers conclude that the percentage of deferrals of total salaries has slightly declined over time as more sponsors shifted to defined contribution plans.

But that simple comparison doesn’t provide a full picture. The researchers then set out to assess returns on those deferrals.

Because more 401(k) and defined contribution assets were invested in equities throughout the period, the total annual change in pension wealth has been relatively steady, meaning the shift to DC plans has not led to less total saving.

“We are going to have to change our story,” write Munnell and the two other researchers.

Read the full paper here.


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One Response to “Center for Retirement Research Pivots on 401(k)s In New Paper”

  1. StevenC says:

    I’m not sure if I get the main point here. As I understand, these are aggregate numbers. Total savings as a percent of income.

    Is there any indication of how this saving is distributed among various income groups? Are lower income groups putting as much into 401(k)s as they had been receiving in DBs? Or are the higher income groups increasing their savings to compensate for the lack of more secure income they would have had from a DB?

    One advantage for lower paid employees with the DB is the mandatory nature. How many households with a $40,000 income will voluntarily reduce their net income by 6% (that’s $200 out of $3,000 take home pay), and NEVER make an early withdrawal for an emergency?

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