NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Individual Account Investment Options and Portfolio Choice: Behavioral Lessons from 401(k) Plans

Jeffrey R. Brown, Nellie Liang, Scott Weisbenner

NBER Working Paper No. 13169
Issued in June 2007
NBER Program(s):   AG   PE   AP

This paper examines how the menu of investment options made available to workers in defined contribution plans influences portfolio choice. Using unique panel data of 401(k) plans in the U.S., we present three principle findings. First, we show that the share of investment options in a particular asset class (i.e., company stock, equities, fixed income, and balanced funds) has a significant effect on aggregate participant portfolio allocations across these asset classes. Second, we document that the vast majority of the new funds added to 401(k) plans are high-cost actively managed equity funds, as opposed to lower-cost equity index funds. Third, because the average share of assets invested in low-cost equity index funds declines with an increase in the number of options, average portfolio expenses increase and average portfolio performance is thus depressed. All of these findings are obtained from a panel data set, enabling us to control for heterogeneity in the investment preferences of workers across firms and across time.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13169

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