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Vulnerabilities in Defined-Benefit Pension Plans

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An effective pension system enhances economic and financial efficiency. A majority of pension plans in Canada are defined-benefit (DB) plans, but DB plans are under stress from increasing longevity, low long-term interest rates, and the shrinking equity premium. DB plans are vulnerable to such shocks because they are complex financial vehicles, with interdependencies not fully understood by those who design, administer, regulate, and otherwise influence their operation. In this paper, I provide an overview of the basic economic workings of a highly stylized DB pension plan. I use the framework to highlight some of the misconceptions about these plans and explain why the burden on sponsors has been increasing.

JEL Code(s): G, G2, G23