Date: Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Time: 13:30-14:30 UTC Time Zone (for other time zones click here)

Topic: The Modest Long-Run Effects of Automatic Savings Policies

Speaker: Professor John Beshears, Harvard Business School

Co-authors: James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte C. Madrian

Abstract: Defined contribution retirement savings plans around the world increasingly feature automatic enrollment and automatic escalation policies. Under automatic enrollment, an employer initiates its employees’ participation in the retirement plan at a default contribution rate unless employees opt out. Under automatic escalation, an employer initiates contribution rate increases on behalf of its employees according to a predetermined schedule unless employees opt out. Using administrative data from a series of U.S. employers' retirement plan policy changes and a regression discontinuity design, we estimate the effects of automatic policies on retirement savings outcomes for employees over the five years after they are hired. We find surprisingly modest effects of automatic policies at five years after hire. We identify two reasons for this finding. First, a large fraction of employees leave their employer within five years of hire, and job separation frequently triggers retirement plan withdrawals. Second, employees who do not leave their employer tend to accept retirement plan defaults in the short run but then begin to adjust their plan contribution rates. On average, these active adjustments diminish the difference between the contribution rates of employees subject to automatic policies and the contribution rates of employees not subject to such policies.

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John Beshears is the Terrie F. and Bradley M. Bloom Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit, teaching the second-year MBA course "Motivation & Incentives." He is also a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Before joining HBS, he was an assistant professor of finance at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Professor Beshears’s primary research area is behavioral economics, the field that combines insights from psychology and economics to explore individual decision making and market outcomes. He focuses on understanding how the financial decisions of households and firms are influenced by the institutional environment in which choices are made. In recent work, he has studied participation in retirement savings plans, household investment decisions, and health-care choices.

The National Institutes of Health, Social Security Administration, FINRA Investor Education Foundation, Russell Sage Foundation, TIAA Institute, and National Science Foundation have supported Professor Beshears’s research. His work has been published in journals including the Journal of Finance, Journal of Financial Economics, Review of Financial Studies, Journal of Public Economics, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America; it has also been featured in The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and Time.

After earning his Ph.D. in business economics at HBS, Professor Beshears was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He received an AB in economics from Harvard University.

The IPRA/CEPAR webinar is presented by the International Pension Research Association (IPRA) and CEPAR.

IPRA is an international organisation established with the aim of improving the quality and impact of research on pensions and related ageing issues to optimise social and economic outcomes for an ageing world. Its inaugural executive committee comprises representatives of the four founding organisations CEPAR (Australia), the Pension Research Council at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (USA), Netspar at Tilburg University (The Netherlands), and the OECD.