Do Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) increase savings? It is unclear whether they are largely "savings-creating" (i.e. generate new savings) or are largely "savings-diverting" (i.e. the repository for shifted existing assets or for savings that would have been made without the plans). While the increase in Canadian private saving relative to that in the United States in the early seventies is sometimes taken as evidence for the view that RRSPs are savings-creating, we present a number of arguments which reduce confidence in that conclusion.
Further microdata studies of similar programs in the United States yield conflicting conclusions. We find that perhaps the best approach attempted in the United States, examining savings before and after a change in program limits, is not likely to be useful in Canada as publicly-available microdata suggest that few taxpayers are constrained by RRSP limits. Given that RRSPs tend largely to benefit higher-income households, the lack of good evidence that they increase savings may influence consideration of such issues as to whether RRSP limits should be increased, although the importance of the RRSP program in providing horizontal equity between members of Registered Pension Plans and nonmembers must be acknowledged.