Should men control retirement accounts? ERISA rules say yes
Professor says 401(k) system is biased against women
Does either married partner name matter in the 'common property’ states? In my state of California I’m told everything is owned 50/50 anyway regardless of the name on the envelope.
She says “Society is still stacked against women” and “I’m far more conscious of the sisterhood”... I think she has an axe to grind. So retirement assets should be jointly held? Bank accounts, brokerage accounts, IRAs, securities, real estate, etc. are not required to be jointly held – I don’t hear complaints about them, are they next? If women had higher 401(k) account balances than men, I’ll bet she’d fight against joint ownership.
I just want to point out that the “She” Gary refers to here is two different people.
Elizabeth, the writer of the story, said “A solution mandated by law that would split assets or make accounts joint probably would require a general recognition that society is still stacked against women. Clearly, there’s no consensus on that point.”
And Carolyn siad: “I have never been a brow-beating feminist,... but I’m far more conscious of the sisterhood than I used to be.”
I looked and have not found the ERISA rules that say only men are allowed to control retirement plans. I’m left to conlude the professor and/or author could be exaggerating. I am aware of practical reasons why the working spouse has legal title to his or her account since it coordinates with an employer’s payroll system. In my view this does not make 401(k) plans (or payroll systems) sexist.
A spouse who takes a break from his/her career, for whatever reason, likely will have a lower 401(k)account balance. In my view, this result has nothing to do with a bias toward males under ERISA, but is a consequence of not being paid. (I concluded this by observing that men who leave their jobs also stop receiving a paycheck.) However, if the “sisterhood” comes to see itself as disadvantaged, there are many ways they can respond, as demonstrated by Ms. MacBride’s own investigation of her husband’s 401(k) account. (It’s unfortunate that it took this interview to create a sufficient degree of interest to motivate her to inquire. Evidently Mr. MacBride,presumably out of respect for his wife and not because of a threat of Congressional action, was willing to share the information.)
Any legal change would be symbolic (“expressive” was professor Monopoli’s term). The cost of compliance (which employers will try to pass along to married workers, to the disadvantage of both the husband and wife) is real.
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The argument for joint “ownership’ of ESRPs makes no sense at all, and there’s no inherent inequality in the system. If a woman is primary breadwinner in the house and her husband is a stay at home dad, then she’ll be the one building the significant 401k balance. Does he, then, have a right to control these assets? No. The industry isn’t designed to generate family wealth; it’s designed to give workers an option to save for their retirement. There’s no need for spouses of any kind of be “joint” owner of a DC account. Now, if the couple divorces, the 401k plan balance may become an issue of a settlement (she gets the house, he gets to keep this 401K), but that’s another story entirely.
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