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Defined Contribution and Participant Behavior Research Program
This program was initiated in 1994 in response to increasing interest of EBRI members in the impact of sponsor and/or provider educational efforts on the investment behavior of participants in participant-directed defined contribution plans. The initial program objective has been expanded to include aspects of interest in defined contribution plans, such as participant behavior in asset allocations, contribution levels and participation, and the response to participant behavior by plan sponsors and service providers. The first phase of the program yielded four Issue Briefs and a report to the Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission by 1996.
The primary emphasis of the second phase of the program is the creation of a multi-source longitudinal database that provides information on participant-level decisions with respect to participation, contributions, and asset allocation. EBRI member firms, policymakers, and the media find this information to be extremely important. In an attempt to enhance data-collection efforts, EBRI and the Investment Company Institute joined forces to allow for expansion of the program activities to develop the most comprehensive database on 401(k) plan participants yet assembled. Participant data include demographic, contribution, asset allocation, and loan and withdrawal activity information. The December 2012 Issue Brief presents analysis of data collected for 2011 on more than 64,000 plans with 24.0 million participants and $1.415 trillion in assets. Data for year-end 2012 will be collected in the first quarter of 2013.
- Annual Updates on "401(k) Plan Asset Allocation, Account Balances and Loan
Activity." The result of nine years' collaboration between EBRI and the Investment
Company Institute (ICI) in the collection of data on participants in 401(k) plans, this
database includes demographic information, annual contributions, plan balances, asset
allocation, and loans, and is by far the most comprehensive source of information on
individual plan participants.
- EBRI Issue Brief, January 1999
(year-end 1996 data)
- Appendix: (year-end 1997 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, February 2000 (year-end 1998 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, February 2001 (year-end 1999 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, November 2001 (year-end 2000 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, March 2003 (year-end 2001 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, September 2003 (year-end 2002 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, August 2004 (year-end 2003 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, September 2005 (year-end 2004 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, August 2006 (year-end 2005 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, August 2007 (year-end 2006 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, December 2008 (year-end 2007 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, October 2009 (year-end 2008 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, November 2010 (year-end 2009 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, December 2011 (year-end 2010 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, December 2012 (year-end 2011 data)
- EBRI Issue Brief, January 1999 (year-end 1996 data)
- Can 401(k) Accumulations Generate Significant Income for Future Retirees? -- The November 2002 Issue Brief uses the newly
developed EBRI/ICI 401(k) Accumulation Projection Model to analyze whether 401(k)
accumulations are expected to generate significant income for future retirees. This model
uses 401(k) participant behavior observed from millions of individual observations in the
EBRI/ICI Participant-Directed Retirement Plan Data Collection Project to project what
401(k) participants can expect from their 401(k) accumulations at retirement.
The Influence of Automatic Enrollment, Catch-Up, and IRA Contributions on 401(k) Accumulations at Retirement-- The July 2005 Issue Brief builds on the model scenarios presented in Holden and VanDerhei (November 2002). It presents new scenarios that examine the role that 401(k) accumulations might play in retirement by analyzing certain factors that influence outcomes for 401(k) participants, including: plan design, through automatic enrollment; tax policy, through catch-up contributions; and individuals themselves, through saving in IRAs when not offered 401(k) plans.
- EBRI Survey on Company Stock in 401(k) Plans - The EBRI survey polled members of the
International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists (ISCEBS) with respect to
company stock investment options, whether employer contributions are required to be
invested in company stock, average percentage of company stock in the employees' accounts,
restrictions on selling the company stock, and blackout periods. Additional questions
examined perceptions of the Enron situation, appropriate limits for investment in company
stock and the role of the government, and perceptions on public policy issues related to
company stock in 401(k) plans. Survey
- "Contribution Behavior of 401(k) Plan
Participants". The October 2001 Issue Brief examines the 1999 contribution
behavior of 1.7 million 401(k) plan participants drawn from the EBRI/ICI
Participant-Directed Retirement Plan Data Collection Project. The findings in this paper
build on previous academic research examining the contribution activity of 401(k)
participants, by using a large sample of participants in a wide range of plan sizes and by
examining in detail the factors that influence contribution activity.
- EBRI Testimony Before Congress on 401(k) Plans and Company Stock:
- Testimony by Dallas Salisbury for the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight Hearing on Retirement Security and Defined Benefit Pension Plans June 20, 2002
- Testimony by Jack VanDerhei, Temple University and research director of the EBRI Fellows Program before the Senate Finance Committee (Feb. 27, 2002) and House Ways and Means Committee (Feb. 26, 2002) on Retirement Security and Defined Contribution Pension Plans: The Role of Company Stock in 401(k) Plans.
- Testimony by Jack VanDerhei, Temple University and research director of the EBRI Fellows Program, before the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations, Feb. 13, 2002, on The Role of Company Stock in 401(k) Plans.
- Written testimony by Dallas Salisbury,
EBRI President and CEO, an expert witness at the Feb. 7, 2002, hearing by the Senate
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Protecting the Pensions of
Working Americans: Lessons From the Enron Debacle. The testimony includes a copy of
the EBRI survey on company stock in 401(k) plans.
- "A Behavioral
Model for Predicting Employee Contributions to 401(k) Plans," North American
Actuarial Journal. This article, originally presented at the Society of Actuaries'
Retirement 2000 Symposia, provides the initial results of a new model that will allow
employers to predict employee's contributions as a function of demographic information as
well as plan design parameters. The model allows for complete specification of the
match rate and the amount of employee's contribution matched as well as more detailed
- "USA Accounts and Employer Plans: Design Issues to Avoid Destruction,"
Employee Benefit Research Institute, March 22, 1999. This research analyzed the
potential impact of the original USA Accounts proposed by President Clinton in his 1999
State of the Union address. The potential disruption for plan sponsors as a result
of ADP/ACP testing difficulties was quantified. Three weeks after this analysis was
distributed, an alternative proposal was released by the federal government that would
allow contributions to these accounts to be included in the employer's nondiscrimination
- EBRI Issue Brief no. 176, August 1996,
"Worker Investment Decisions: An Analysis of Large 401(k) Plan Data" This
Issue Brief examines the asset allocation decisions of 401(k) plan participants working
for three large employers (AT&T, IBM Corporation, and New York Life Insurance Company)
with a total of 180,000 employees. It is a companion to the June 1996 EBRI Issue Brief.
- EBRI Issue Brief no. 174, June 1996,
"Contribution Rates and Plan Features: An Analysis of Large 401(k) Plan Data"
This Issue Brief focuses on how participant contribution decisions were directly impacted
by plan-specific features, such as the matching formula and the limits imposed on
participant contributions (both by the plan and by the law).
- EBRI Issue Brief no. 169, January 1996,
"Participant Education: Actions and Outcomes" This Issue Brief is based on
surveys conducted in 1995 of participant-directed retirement plan service providers, plan
sponsors, and workers to analyze and quantify the provision of educational material within
such plans. The surveys focused on the types of educational services provided, the subject
matter covered, and the impact of the material on worker decision-making. The first
section analyzes participant attitudes and knowledge regarding participant-directed
retirement plans. The second section examines the services provided to plan sponsors. The
final section presents an analysis of educational material provided to workers by plan
sponsors and an exploratory analysis of its impact.
- EBRI Issue Brief, no. 160, April 1995, "Can We Save Enough to Retire? Participant Education in Defined Contribution Plans." This Issue Brief examines the public policy issues involved in participant education, discusses selected educational efforts and provides preliminary findings on their impact, and presents estimates of workers' relative preferences among various plan characteristics.
For more information on this program, please contact Jack VanDerhei at 202-659-0670 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated December 2012
EBRI Research and Education Centers
- 401(k) Valuations Published: November 30, 2013 401(k) Balances and Changes Due to Market Volatility
- Data Book Last Updated: February 2013 A comprehensive collection of the most up-to-date benefit information available