Retirement savers are more likely to stay in their 401(k) plans when they are automatically enrolled to contribute more than 3% of their salaries, according to a survey released Tuesday by New York Life Retirement Plan Services.

Countering the myth that automatic enrollment results in participants opting out of plans in larger numbers, New York Life officials say their analysis indicates that plans auto enrolling their participants at higher deferral rates have lower participant opt-out rates.

Plans with less than 4% default contribution rates experienced 14% opt-out rates, vs. 10% for plans with greater than 3% default deferrals for the 12-month period ending March 31.

The study consisted of 480 plans and 800,000 participants across New York Life's retirement platform. Auto enrollment in 401(k) plans was encouraged in the Pension Protection Act of 2006. The number of plans on the New York Life platform that have adopted auto enrollment climbed to 61% as of March 31, compared with 21% in 2006.

New York Life Retirement Plan Services, a division of New York Life Investment Management LLC, administered more than $37 billion in bundled retirement plans as of March 31.

New York Life officials say the survey also shows plans that auto enroll participants at a rate greater than 3% of salary have a 95% overall participation rate -- superior to plans auto enrolling participants with less than a 3% deferral rate, which have 88% participation on average.

Officials also say 30% of participants in plans with default deferral rates higher than 3% proactively increased their deferral rate within a year of being auto enrolled. The percentage of participants proactively increasing their deferral rate after being auto enrolled at higher than 3% has steadily increased since 2006, when only 13% of the population had done so.

By comparison, participants enrolled at lower rates have garnered a strong but flat rate of participant engagement, ranging from 27% to 26% over the same time period.

"Participant engagement is one of the toughest nuts to crack and we need to attack it on several fronts," said David Castellani, CEO of New York Life Retirement Plan Services. "It isn't about the most clever postcard, or best app -- it's about understanding human behavior and capitalizing on it."