Conference presentations

The Design of Defined Contribution Plans

Gaston Illanes (Northwestern University)


Defined contribution (DC) plans are a major vehicle for retirement savings in the US, holding almost $10 trillion in assets under management. In recent years, the quality and availability of these plans has been the subject of active policy attention and of several major lawsuits. This paper studies how employers and plan providers (recordkeepers) design these plans. We argue that low plan quality and limited provision can come from two sources. First, employer willingness to pay may be misaligned with that of workers or of regulators. Second, the market for recordkeeping may be imperfectly competitive. We propose a model of plan design and estimate that while both frictions are at play, significant changes to plan quality require modifying employer preferences. Accordingly, we evaluate proposed policies and conclude that only direct quality regulation can lead to significant quality improvements. Recent proposals can increase plan provision but have negligible quality effects.


defined contribution plans; bargaining;

JEL codes

  • C78: Bargaining Theory • Matching Theory
  • J32: Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits • Retirement Plans • Private Pensions
  • L51: Economics of Regulation


Gaston Illanes (Northwestern University), The Design of Defined Contribution Plans, CSIO-TSE 19th Joint Workshop on Industrial Organization, Toulouse, 2022.

See also

Published in

CSIO-TSE 19th Joint Workshop on Industrial Organization, Toulouse, 2022