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Save More Tomorrow: Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving

Posted: 26 Jan 2004  

Shlomo Benartzi

University of California at Los Angeles

Richard H. Thaler

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Abstract

As firms switch from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans, employees bear more responsibility for making decisions about how much to save. The employees who fail to join the plan or who participate at a very low level appear to be saving at less than the predicted life cycle savings rates. Behavioral explanations for this behavior stress bounded rationality and self-control and suggest that at least some of the low-saving households are making a mistake and would welcome aid in making decisions about their saving. In this paper, we propose such a prescriptive savings program, called Save More Tomorrow (hereafter, the SMarT program). The essence of the program is straightforward: people commit in advance to allocating a portion of their future salary increases toward retirement savings. We report evidence on the first three implementations of the SMarT program. Our key findings, from the first implementation, which has been in place for four annual raises, are as follows: (1) a high proportion (78 percent) of those offered the plan joined, (2) the vast majority of those enrolled in the SMarT plan (80 percent) remained in it through the fourth pay raise, and (3) the average saving rates for SMarT program participants increased from 3.5 percent to 13.6 percent over the course of 40 months. The results suggest that behavioral economics can be used to design effective prescriptive programs for important economic decisions.

Suggested Citation

Benartzi, Shlomo and Thaler, Richard H., Save More Tomorrow: Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving. Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 112, No. 1, pp. S164-S187, February 2004. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=489693

Shlomo Benartzi (Contact Author)

University of California at Los Angeles ( email )

D410 Anderson Complex
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States
310-206-9939 (Phone)
310-267-2193 (Fax)

Richard H. Thaler

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-5208 (Phone)
773-702-0458 (Fax)

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