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Data on workers’ access to retirement plans and take up rates



At any one time only half of workers participate in a retirement plan at work.  This is, in part, because employers are not required to have retirement plans, and also because those who offer plans can limit retirement plan coverage to certain classes of workers.  In addition, workers offered 401(k) and other retirement savings plans can typically choose whether or not to participate in their employer’s retirement plan. In March 2023 there were 63.9 million workers who did not participate in a retirement plan at work.**

Access, Participation and Take-up rates

The National Compensation Survey (NCS) distinguishes between access to a retirement plan and participation in the plan. For a worker to have access to a retirement plan at work an employer must have a plan that covers the worker and the worker must be eligible to participate in the plan. Eligibility to participate can depend on age and years of service with an employer. Participation is generally automatic for workers who meet the eligibility requirements of defined benefit plans.*Workers in 401(k)-type savings plans have the option not to participate and thus participation rates for these plans are lower than access rates. The NCS take-up rate is the percent of workers with access to a plan who also participate in the plan.  The employer plans include defined benefit plans, 401(k), 403(b), profit-sharing, ESOP or money purchase plan. See the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) National Compensation Survey (NCS) glossary, in the report titled Employee Benefits in the United States March 2023, for definitions of access and participation.   For an analysis of take-up rates see BLS/NCS TED: The Economics Daily, September 23, 2019,

*Public-sector workers generally are required to contribute to their defined benefit plans. In 2023 ninety-one percent of public-sector workers in defined benefit plans were required to contribute to their plans. The median rate of contribution was seven percent of annual earnings.

Access, participation and take-up rates by type of plan, NCS, March 2023**


Access Participation Take-up Rate
All workers 73%  56% 77%
Defined benefit plans 24% 19% 80%
Retirement savings plans 63% 45% 71%
 Private-sector workers only  70% 53% 75%
Defined benefit plans 15% 11% 74%
Retirement savings plans 67% 49% 73%
State and local government workers 91% 81% 89%
Defined benefit plans 86% 75% 87%
Retirement savings plans 39% 18% 48%


*Access and participation numbers may not add up since some workers have access to, and participate in, both types of plans.

See Tables Here.



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