EBRI Issue Brief

Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation: Geographic Differences and Trends, 2013

Oct 27, 2014 48  pages


  • The percentage of workers participating in an employment-based retirement plan rose in 2013, increasing for the first time since 2010 among all workers and private-sector workers.
  • The retirement plan participation level depends on the type of worker being considered:
    • Among all American workers in 2013, 51.3 percent worked for an employer or union that sponsored a retirement plan (the sponsorship rate), while 40.8 percent participated in a plan.
    • Among wage and salary workers ages 21–64, the sponsorship rate increased to 56.0 percent, and the portion participating increased to 45.8 percent.
    • Among full-time, full-year wage and salary workers ages 21–64, the sponsorship rate was 62.3 percent and 54.5 percent of the workers participated in a retirement plan.
    • Almost 74 percent of wage and salary public-sector workers participated in an employment-based retirement plan.
  • Being white or having attained a higher educational level were also associated with higher probabilities of participating in a retirement plan. Hispanic wage and salary workers were significantly less likely than both white and black workers to participate in a retirement plan, although native-born Hispanics were more likely to participate than non-native born Hispanics. The overall gap between the percentages of black and white plan participants narrowed when compared across earnings levels, with blacks surpassing whites at the income level of $75,000 or more.
  • While the overall percentage of females participating in a plan was lower than that of males, when controlling for work status or earnings, the female participation level actually surpassed that of males in 2013. The retirement-plan-participation gender gap significantly closed from 1987?2009 before widening in 2010–2012 but nearly closed again in 2013.
  • Of the 67.9 million wage and salary workers who worked for an employer that did not sponsor a plan, 17.9 million (26.4 percent) were ages 25 or younger or 65 or older. Almost 30 million (43.6 percent) were not full-time, full-year workers, and 29.2 million (43.0 percent) had annual earnings of less than $20,000. Furthermore, 39.3 million (57.8 percent) worked for employers with less than 100 employees.
  • Workers at large employers were far more likely to participate than those at smaller firms. Those in the manufacturing industry and the transportation, utilities, information, and financial industry had the highest probability of participating, while those in the other-services industry had the lowest probability.
  • Across all ages, workers with employment-based health insurance from their own employers were more than twice as likely to participate in a retirement plan as those without health insurance from their own employers.