The studies also show that a significant number of workers make poor initial investment choices, and if they revisit those choices, they make poor subsequent decisions. That means poor results on top of the inadequate savings.

With a large segment of the population mismanaging small accumulations, people will likely rely more on the government or other societal support than they would if they had better-managed, larger accumulations.

In the eyes of many economists and sociologists, annuitizing retirement accumulations eliminates many of these concerns by offering a steady income to those who might otherwise not have one. Such a move would not completely eliminate a retiree's dependence on the government or private-sector support, of course, since citizens can still mismanage a steady income. But by and large, economists seem attracted to the trade-off.

Last year, the General Accounting Office turned heads when it released a study that said only about 6% of 401(k) participants take a lifetime income payment option-and that more people should consider doing it for some portion of their retirement assets.

People receiving a secure annuity check cannot outlive their income. They do not have to make decisions about where to invest their funds, nor do they need to make subsequent decisions about how to adjust these choices. Their decision-making has been greatly simplified. They need only make decisions about how to spend the income.

Contrast that experience with the enormous complexities involved in managing a retirement portfolio. Retirees are supposed to learn from the media where they can find higher-yielding investments, how they can position their retirement assets, how they can manage income taxes on a nest egg, and what their safe initial withdrawal rate may or may not be.

Retirees also have to figure out how to incorporate their values and psychological traits into their plans. As I mentioned in a previous column, a budding community of academics and practitioners are examining what it takes to have a successful retirement in non-financial terms, including happiness, relevance and contentment.

The proliferation of blogs and social media has added to the volume of information. But not all this information is good or useful, and it can add to both clients' and advisors' confusion. A steady secure annuity check minimizes, if not eliminates, much of the complexity, anxiety and potential for error a retiree would face if he or she managed a lump sum.

Research seems to support this idea. Work by Bender (2004) and Panis (2003) finds that retirees are happier with a defined benefit pension than they are with a comparable amount of wealth in a retirement account.

Yet few clients buy annuities. Why?