Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Financial Economics


Economics and Finance

Major Professor

Tutunen-Red, Arja

Second Advisor

Whitney, Gerald

Third Advisor

Tufte, David

Fourth Advisor

Daal, Elton

Fifth Advisor

Maroney, Neal


The nature of employee retirement plans has changed dramatically over the past fifteen years as employers have been replacing traditional defined benefit retirement plans with defined contribution plans like the 401(k) plan. This dissertation is focused on the impact that 401(k) plan have on household asset accumulation. The first essay looks at how much asset accumulation can be attributed to 401(k) plans as opposed to other factors such as demographics and saver type characteristics. Overall, the conclusions are consistent with recent research that says these plans induce a reshuffling of assets rather than being funded through a reduction in consumption. Controlling for cohort effects reduces the amount of wealth attributable to 401(k) eligibility to a negligible (and statistically insignificant) amount. The second essay considers the impact that borrowing against the assets in 401(k) plan might have on household asset accumulation. Most personal finance advice warns against borrowing against a retirement plan because of the potential negative impact on retirement wealth. This is especially true for borrowers who are also undisciplined savers and do not or cannot maintain their retirement plan contributions during loan period or who separate from their employers before the loan is repaid. For good savers a retirement plan loan only has a modest impact on retirement wealth. Only modest make-up contributions would need to be made to mitigate the impact of a retirement plan loan. It seems that many borrowers may be using retirement loans because they are in financial difficulty. It also appears that borrowers are trying to maintain their retirement savings, but their asset accumulation within broader measures of wealth is below that of households that do not have outstanding 401(k) loans.


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