Behavioral Economics Perspectives on Public Sector Pension Plans

46 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2011 Last revised: 2 Feb 2011

See all articles by John Beshears

John Beshears

Harvard Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

James J. Choi

Yale School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

David Laibson

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Brigitte C. Madrian

Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 2011

Abstract

We describe the pension plan features of the states and the largest cities and counties in the U.S. Unlike in the private sector, defined benefit (DB) pensions are still the norm in the public sector. However, a few jurisdictions have shifted towards defined contribution (DC) plans as their primary savings plan, and fiscal pressures are likely to generate more movement in this direction. Holding fixed a public employee's work and salary history, we show that DB retirement income replacement ratios vary greatly across jurisdictions. This creates large variation in workers' need to save for retirement in other accounts. There is also substantial heterogeneity across jurisdictions in the savings generated in primary DC plans because of differences in the level of mandatory employer and employee contributions. One notable difference between public and private sector DC plans is that public sector primary DC plans are characterized by required employee or employer contributions (or both), whereas private sector plans largely feature voluntary employee contributions that are supplemented by an employer match. We conclude by applying lessons from savings behavior in private sector savings plans to the design of public sector plans.

Suggested Citation

Beshears, John and Choi, James J. and Laibson, David I. and Madrian, Brigitte C., Behavioral Economics Perspectives on Public Sector Pension Plans (January 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w16728. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1749888

John Beshears

Harvard Business School ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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James J. Choi

Yale School of Management ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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David I. Laibson

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Brigitte C. Madrian

Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business ( email )

Provo, UT 84602
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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