Temporal Distance to Retirement and Communication Framing: Enhancing Retirement Financial Decision Making

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Based on temporal construal theory, the length of time a person has before they reach retirement age will influence how they react to different types of messages. This theory predicts younger workers prefer more abstract communications compared to older workers who should prefer more concrete information because retirement is a distant goal rather than a proximal one.  We also directly test how positive and negative message framing, goal timeframes, concreteness of the material presented and an individuals’ age influences an individual’s retirement savings intentions. This paper summarizes our preliminary findings. We test our hypotheses using survey responses gathered after participants view one of several different ads that vary by communication tactics but not by the savings-related information provided. Our initial results indicate that different communication techniques may be more effective with younger workers than older workers and vice versa. In addition, we also find the effectiveness of negative message framing increases when presented in a manner (either abstract or concrete) that is consistent with the way the individual views retirement. Finally, by reducing the goal time frame for younger workers, we find evidence that we may be able to encourage this age group to think more concretely about savings and express stronger intentions to save.  Our paper concludes with an outline of our future research plans. Our final results should be helpful when designing communications for targeted age groups.

To obtain a copy of this paper, please contact Julie Agnew, Lisa Szykman, or Nicole Montgomery.