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The last private industry pension plans

January 03, 2013

Having sufficient income during retirement years is a concern for many Americans. In years past, many employers provided a pension plan—formally known as a defined benefit plan—that ensured periodic payments for the life of the retiree and his or her spouse. Such plans are becoming rare for workers in private industry. In 2011, only 18 percent of private industry employees were covered by defined benefit plans; coverage was 35 percent in the early 1990s.

Percentage of private industry employees participating in defined benefit pension plans, selected years, 1990–2011
YearsPercent of employees










Although most BLS data on benefits reflect the proportion of workers covered, data were added in recent years on the percentage of establishments offering a plan. Ten percent of private industry establishments offered a defined benefit pension plan to their employees in 2011. The number of employees in the establishment appears to be a key factor in whether an employer offers a defined benefit plan. Among establishments with fewer than 50 workers, 8 percent offered a defined benefit plan. In contrast, among establishments with 500 or more workers, 48 percent offered a plan.


Percentage of private industry establishments offering defined benefit pension plans, by number of employees, 2011
Number of employees in establishmentPercent of establishments

All establishments


1 to 49 employees


50 to 99 employees


100 to 499 employees


500 or more employees



These data are from the BLS National Compensation Survey — Benefits program. To learn more, see “The last private industry pension plans: a visual essay” (PDF) by William J. Wiatrowski, Monthly Labor Review, December 2012. A defined benefit plan provides employees with guaranteed retirement benefits that are based on a benefit formula. A participant’s retirement age, length of service, and preretirement earnings may affect the benefit received.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, The last private industry pension plans at (visited July 21, 2024).

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