Defined benefit pension plan distribution decisions by public sector employees, by Robert L. Clark, Melinda Sandler Morrill and David Vanderweide

Authors: Robert L. Clark, Melinda Sandler Morrill and David Vanderweide

Journal: Journal of Public Economics

Abstract: Studies examining pension distribution choices have found that the tendency of private-sector workers is to select lump sum distributions instead of life annuities resulting in leakage of retirement savings. In the public sector, defined benefit pensions usually offer lump sum distributions equal to employee contributions, not the present value of the annuity. Thus, for terminating employees that are younger or have shorter tenures, the lump sum distribution amount may exceed the present value of the annuity. We discuss the factors that may influence the choice to withdraw funds or not in this environment. Using administrative data from the North Carolina state and local government retirement systems, we find that over two-thirds of public sector workers under age 50 separating prior to retirement from public plans in North Carolina left their accounts open and did not request a cash distribution from the pension system within one year of separation. Furthermore, the evidence suggests many separating workers, particularly those with short tenure, may be forgoing substantial monetary benefits due to lack of knowledge, understanding, or accessibility of benefits. We find no evidence of a bias toward cash distributions for public employees in North Carolina.


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