Racial Disparities in Savings Behavior for a Continuously Employed Cohort

Kai Yuan Kuan, Mark R. Cullen, Sepideh Modrek

NBER Working Paper No. 20937
Issued in February 2015
NBER Program(s):Aging, Public Economics

The wealth gap has reached record highs. At the same time there has been substantial proliferation of 401(k) savings accounts as the dominant retirement savings vehicle, and these accounts make up an increasing proportion of overall wealth. In this paper we examine 401(k) saving behavior of continuously employed workers over an eight-year period at a single, geographically diverse employer. We demonstrate substantial difference in 401(k) savings behavior by employee ethnicity even within a single employer 401(k) plan architecture. We show both African American and Hispanic employees are less likely to participate in the 401(k) plans. Moreover, conditional on participation African Americans contribute a lower proportion of their income to their 401(k) plan on average. We also show that African Americans and Hispanics tend to draw down on their 401(k) balances more often. Finally, we document that both African Americans and Hispanics favor safer assets within their plan options. Together these differences substantially impact the level of 401(k) balances accumulated and therefore overall wealth accumulation.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20937

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