Target-Date Funds in 401(k) Retirement Plans

Olivia S. Mitchell and Stephen P. Utkus

Abstract — Individual responsibility for portfolio construction is a central theme for defined contribution pensions, yet the rise of target-date funds is shifting investment decisions from workers back to employers. A complex choice architecture including automatic enrollment, reenrollment, and fund mapping, is increasing the number of participants defaulting into employer-selected target-date funds. At the same time, portfolios of non-defaulted participants undergo sizeable changes, with equity share ratios widening by over 40 percent points between younger/older participants. Among active decision-makers, these funds act as a form of implicit employer-provided lifecycle investment advice. More broadly, our findings highlight malleable preferences among retirement investors and a demand for default-based guidance or simplified advice for households facing complex choices.