Pension Funding and Saving

B. Douglas Bernheim, John B. Shoven

NBER Working Paper No. 1622
Issued in May 1985
NBER Program(s):Public Economics

This paper suggests that the nature of the funding of defined benefit pension plans may be an important reason why personal saving has not responded positively to the high real interest rites and tax incentives to encourage saving and investment of the last few years. From a firm's standpoint, funding the promised pension is a target, and higher rates of return permit reaching that target with lower contributions. According to the Flow of Funds Accounts of the Federal Reserve System between 1982 and 1984, net pension contributions declined from 6.02 percent of disposable personal income to 4.02 percent.The paper presents empirical information regarding pension contributions, unfunded liabilities, interest rates, and recent developments in pension funding. It specifies the target saving model of pension funding and derives the theoretical elasticity of pension contributions to changes in interestrates. It then investigates this elasticity with aggregate time series econometrics. In general, the estimated elasticities are consistent with the theory and indicate that one percentage point rise in real interest rates would, in the long run, reduce pension contributions between 20 and 30 percent. Such a large negative elasticity for such an important source of loanable funds in the economy suggests that the pensions funding mechanism should be taken into account in designing policies to increase the economy's saving and investment.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1622


  • Bernheim, B. Douglas and John B. Shoven. "Pension Funding and Saving," Pensions in the U.S. Economy, ed. Z. Bodie, J. Shoven, D. Wise. Chicago: UCP, 1988.
  • Pension Funding and Saving, B. Douglas Bernheim, John B. Shoven. in Pensions in the U.S. Economy, Bodie, Shoven, and Wise. 1988

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