Retirement Plan Participation Rates Stalled

In 2011, the percentage of workers participating in an employment-based retirement plan was essentially unchanged from a year earlier.


Specifically, the percentage of all workers—including part-year, part-time, and self-employed—participating in an employment-based retirement plan moved from 39.6% in 2009, to 39.8% in 2010, to 39.7% in 2011, according to data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

A report in the November 2012 EBRI Issue Brief explains that the type of employment has a major impact on retirement plan participation rates. Among full-time, full-year wage and salary workers ages 21 to 64, 53.7% participated. However, this rate varies significantly across different worker characteristics and the characteristics of their employers.

Being non-white, younger, female, never married; having lower educational attainment, lower earnings, poorer health status, no health insurance through own employer; not working full-time, full-year, and working in service occupations or farming, fisheries, and forestry occupations were all associated with a lower level of participation in a retirement plan. Workers in the South and West were less likely to participate in a plan than those in other regions of the country.

The overall percentage of females participating in a plan was lower than that of males, but when controlling for work status or earnings, the female participation level actually surpassed that of males. The retirement plan participation gender gap significantly closed from 1987 to 2009 before slightly widening in 2010 and 2011.  

Hispanics born outside the United States had substantially lower participation levels than native-born Hispanics, even when controlling for age and earnings. This makes it seem Hispanics as a group lag significantly in terms of retirement plan participation, even though only the non-native Hispanics actually have participation levels substantially below those of all other workers.

The report, “Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation: Geographic Differences and Trends, 2011,” is at