Managers of defined benefit pension plans produced returns that were significantly higher than typical 401(k) returns from 2003 to 2006 and from 1995 to 2005.

Consultants at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, Washington, looked at plan Form 5500 reports for those periods to gauge the investment performance of professional pension plan money managers and plan participants who are managing their own 401(k) plan accounts.

The professionals outperformed the 401(k) plan “do-it-yourselfers” by an average of about 1 percentage point each year between 1995 and 2006, and by about 1.6 percentage points each year during the 2003-2006 bull market, the consultants report.

In 2006, for example, the latest year for which plan data was available, the professionals achieved a median return of 12.9%, and the 401(k) plan account owners achieved a median return of 11.3%, the consultants report.

But all professional money managers are not created equal: during the 1995-2006 period, the defined benefit plan money managers at the largest plans outperformed the money managers at the smallest plans by about 3 percentage points, the consultants note.