The New York Stock Exchange and the Transformation of Retirement in America
Gajewski, Paula Kathleen
This dissertation explains how the performance of the New York Stock Exchange has become vitally important to the methods by which a majority of Americans finance retirement. In 1974, the US Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which extended comprehensive federal regulation to the private pension system for the first time. At the same time, Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission forced the New York Stock Exchange to adopt a negotiated commission rate system, introducing competition on the basis of the price of a stock trade for the first time in the Exchange’s history. Both these measures were a response to the growth of institutional investing of pension funds. Increased competition on Wall Street forced stockbrokers to seek new methods, such as retirement investing, to increase trading volume. By creating a heavy regulatory burden, ERISA encouraged business to seek alternatives to the traditional defined benefit pension plan. Their response was to adopt defined contribution plans, in which the burden of responsibility falls to individual employees, who often lack specialized investment knowledge. The combined effects of ERISA and negotiated rates forced individuals to play a more active role in financing their own retirement, while also increasing their dependence on investment institutions and stock market performance.