The Evolution of U.S. Firms’ Retirement Plan Offerings: Evidence from a New Panel Data Set

NBER, 2021

Arnoud, Choukhmane, Colmenares, O'Dea, Parvathaneni. (2021). "The Evolution of U.S. Firms' Retirement Plan Offerings: Evidence from a New Panel Data Set." NBER.

This paper documents, using a newly-constructed data set, the evolution of the characteristics of employer-sponsored DC schemes. The features we focus on are their match schedules, vesting schedules, and the extent of ‘auto-features’ (i.e. presence of auto-enrollment, the level of any default contribution, and presence and details of auto-escalation). The data we construct is formed by hand-coding the details in narrative plan descriptions attached to plan filings. Our data covers approximately 5,000 plans, covering up to 37 million participants annually, for the period 2003-2017. We document that matching schedules, when they are offered, have become more generous over time. However, the proportion of firms offering a match fell sharply during the Great Recession and the proportion offering one did not recover to its pre-financial crisis level for almost a decade. Vesting schedules for DC plans have remained essentially unchanged since 2003, while the proportion of plans with auto-enrollment has increased dramatically over the same period. We find that the vast majority of plans that offer auto-enrollment have a default rate that is substantially lower than the level that would fully exploit the match offered by the employers.

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