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Changes in Firm Pension Policy: Trends Away From Traditional Defined Benefit Plans

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Publication Date: February 2011

Publisher(s): Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Author(s): Kandice A. Kapinos


Special Collection:

Topic: Economics (Economic conditions)
Economics (Infrastructure)

Keywords: private pensions

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


In light of the recent concerns regarding the solvency of Social Security’s Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI), private pensions may play an increasingly important role in the retirement welfare of U.S. retirees. However, the private pension landscape is also evolving in ways that may result in lower private pension wealth for retirees. One recent such phenomenon involves the conversion of traditional defined benefit (DB) pension plans to cash balance plans, resulting in lower pension benefits for workers. In this study, I investigate how characteristics of the firm’s workforce influence whether the firm converted its traditional pension plan to a cash balance plan and how these characteristics related to the firm’s pension plan policy more generally. Using the Longitudinal Employer-Household Data and pension plan data from the Department of Labor/Internal Revenue Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, I find little evidence of workforce age distribution effects on the likelihood of DB plan conversion to a cash balance plan in the 1990s. More generally, I consistently find positive associations between firms with older and female workforces and having defined contribution plans during the same time.