Pensions: Theories of underfunding

Russell W. Cooper, Thomas W. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The widespread underfunding of private defined benefit pensions has generated concern over the viability of employers' promises of retirement benefits. Years ago, similar concerns led to the creation of pension benefit insurance plans by governments in the United States and a number of other countries. This paper studies the causes of underfunding in an environment without pension benefit insurance. We find that the optimal level of retirement benefits will be offered and fully funded if the employer has sufficient internal funds or is able to borrow all it needs. If loans are not enforceable, an employer with limited resources will generally underfund pensions. Further, if pension investments earn lower returns than other investments, pensions will be underfunded. Thus, the paper highlights the link between financial markets and the underfunding of pensions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-689
Number of pages23
JournalLabour Economics
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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