Although recent academic studies on nonprofits have documented aggressive accounting behavior, these studies have primarily examined the sector in isolation and have not reached definitive conclusions regarding the relative aggressiveness of the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Using actuarial assumptions for defined benefit (DB) pension plans as a proxy for discretionary accounting choices, we examine whether nonprofit managers respond through their actuarial choices to incentives to manage DB pension assumptions, and whether differences exist in the aggressiveness of these assumptions for nonprofits and for-profits. We find evidence consistent with nonprofits managing pension assumptions when incentives and less monitoring exist. Comparing our nonprofits to a sample of for-profits, we find evidence consistent with nonprofits utilizing more aggressive pension assumptions and making stronger responses to incentives to manage these assumptions. Our findings are consistent with the premise that nonprofits are more aggressive than for-profits when using actuarial estimates that deflate pension obligations and inflate performance.

You do not currently have access to this content.