Although the bear market is eating away at the estimated $1.8 trillion in assets held in 401(k) plans, those assets are generally more resilient to market volatility, making them highly prized by asset managers, observers say.

In seven of the 15 years between 1986 to 2000, 401(k) assets grew 25% annually. For the first time last year, however, those assets shrank by $72 billion-- primarily due to market performance, according to Cerulli Associates.

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