Importance of Auto-Enrollment for Retirement Savings at Center of the 20th Annual Samuelson Award Winning Research

Samuelson Award given annually to an author of published research focusing on maintaining and improving Americans' lifelong financial well-being
New York, January 4, 2016 – The TIAA-CREF Institute today announced Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Soren Leth-Petersen, Torben Heien Nielsen, and Tore Olsen as the winners of the 20th annual TIAA-CREF Paul A. Samuelson Award for Outstanding Scholarly Writing on Lifelong Financial Security. The Samuelson Award is given annually in recognition of an outstanding research publication containing ideas that the public and private sectors can use to maintain and improve Americans’ lifelong financial well-being.

The five awardees are honored for their paper, “Active vs. Passive Decisions and Crowd-out in Retirement Savings Accounts: Evidence from Denmark.” The study uses an extraordinary set of 41 million data points from residents of Denmark to analyze the impact of policies designed to increase savings and compare those that require active or passive choice by the saver.

The researchers underscore the importance of automatic contribution policies in influencing the behavior of passive savers - particularly those who are paying the least attention to saving for retirement. The authors believe that these conclusions are applicable in the United States as well due to similarity in behavior between Danish and American savers.

"Many countries around the world are grappling with the challenge of ensuring sufficient retirement savings for current and future generations. We hope our paper advances understanding of this important policy issue, and we are honored to receive the TIAA-CREF Samuelson Award," said the co-authors in a joint statement.

"This outstanding work of research and data analysis will be a unique tool in the United States as experts continue to look at the best ways to help Americans build wealth and secure their financial future,” said Stephanie Bell-Rose, head of the TIAA-CREF Institute. “This thorough examination adds to the growing literature around the role of public/private partnerships that can help families save more. Chetty, Friedman, Leth-Petersen, Nielsen, and Olsen exemplify those we seek to honor with the Samuelson Award, now in its 20th year."

"The research is the most granular analysis up to this date on how active and passive choices impact individual savings, with information covering households’ full balance sheet.  Data of similar coverage are not available to researchers in the U.S. Though the study is based on data from Denmark, it provides sharp and reliable insights for U.S. policy makers as we increasingly move toward employee-directed defined-contribution plans," said Samuelson Award judge Wei Jiang, the Arthur F. Burns Professor of Free and Competitive Enterprise at Columbia Business School.

About the Paul A. Samuelson Award

The award is named after Nobel Prize winner Paul A. Samuelson in honor of his achievements in the field of economics, as well as for his service as a CREF trustee from 1974 to 1985.

The Samuelson Award winner is selected by a panel of distinguished judges composed of TIAA-CREF Institute fellows and previous award winners. This year's panel includes:

  • Wei Jiang of Columbia University
  • Brigitte Madrian of Harvard University
  • Robert McDonald of Northwestern University
  • Jonathan Reuter of Boston College
  • John Rust of Georgetown University

The TIAA-CREF Institute presented the award in San Francisco on January 3, 2016, during the annual meeting of the Allied Social Science Associations.

For more information about the TIAA-CREF Institute, which manages the Samuelson Award program, visit the Institute's website.

About the TIAA-CREF Institute

The TIAA-CREF Institute helps advance the ways individuals and institutions plan for financial security and organizational effectiveness. The Institute conducts in-depth research, provides access to a network of thought leaders and enables those it serves to anticipate trends, plan future strategies and maximize opportunities for success.


TIAA-CREF is a national financial services organization with $834 billion in assets under management (as of 9/31/2015) and is the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields.

Samuelson Award Winners Bios

Raj Chetty is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University. Chetty's research combines empirical evidence and economic theory to help design more effective government policies. His work on tax policy, unemployment insurance, and education has been widely cited in media outlets and Congressional testimony. His current research focuses on equality of opportunity: how can we give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better chances of succeeding?

John N. Friedman is an Associate Professor of Economics and International Affairs and Public Policy at Brown University. His research brings together theory and data and harnesses the power of large administrative datasets to yield policy-relevant insights on a wide range of topics, including taxation, education, retirement, and healthcare. His work has appeared in top academic journals as well as in major media outlets, and his work was cited by President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union Address. From 2013-2014, Prof. Friedman worked as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy at the National Economic Council in the White House.  He holds a Ph.D. in Economics, an A.M. in Statistics, and a B.A. in Economics, all from Harvard University.  He is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Søren Leth-Petersen is a Professor at the Department of Economics at the University of Copenhagen. His research focuses on savings behavior and the evaluation of public policies using large data sets based on administrative records. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Copenhagen. He is also a research fellow at the Centre of Economic and Policy Research, CEPR, in London.

Torben Heien Nielsen is an assistant professor at the economics department at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He works within the field of public economics with particular focus on savings behavior, retirement and health economics. He has specialized in combining Danish policy variation, surveys and large administrative data sources to answer questions like “Do employer pension contributions reflect employee preferences?” “How do relatives respond to severe health shocks within the family?” and “What are the relationships between subjective survey measures and objective administrative records?”

Tore Olsen is an applied micro-economist. His work covers policy-relevant topics in taxation, retirement, and healthcare. He is currently spearheading an effort to raise funds for and establish a Center for Health Economics Research at the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark. The objective of the center is to scale the use of Danish administrative data by building teams of Danish and American researchers to explore the unique Danish administrative data. He holds a Master’s in economics from the University of Copenhagen is currently working on his PhD thesis. He previously worked in the World Bank’s Development Research Group (DECRG).

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