Pension plans in Canada

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As of January 1, 2010 (Previous release)

Membership in registered pension plans (RPPs) in Canada edged up 0.2% in 2009 to nearly 6,024,000. This was the slowest rate of growth in four years.

The entire increase came from the public sector, where RPP membership rose 2.6% to 3,026,400. In the private sector, the number of members fell 2.1% to 2,997,300.

As a result, for the first time, membership in the public sector accounted for more than half (50.2%) of the total membership in RPPs. A decade ago, public sector plans represented 46% of total membership.

Women accounted for two-thirds of the increase in RPP membership in the public sector during 2009. As of January 1, 2010, women represented 62% of membership in the public sector.

On an industry basis, membership rose in public administration (+52,350), finance, insurance and real estate (+34,860) and educational services and health care (+23,250). The largest decline occurred in manufacturing (-62,000).

As of January 1, 2010, there were 19,128 registered pension plans in Canada, down slightly from 19,179 on the same date a year earlier and the second consecutive annual decline.

Participation of women still on an upward trend

In total, male participation in RPPs fell for the first time since 2006. On the other hand, the participation of women continued the long-term upward trend which began in 1998.

In 2009, membership among women increased 1.6% to just over 2,998,000, while among men, it fell 1.0% to 3,026,000. During the recent economic downturn, the number of male workers in the private sector fell by 4.5%, with the manufacturing sector accounting for almost half of the decline.

As of January 1, 2010, men accounted for 50.2% of total membership, down from 50.9% on the same date a year earlier, while the percentage of women rose from 49.1% to 49.8%, their highest ever.

Note to readers

Registered pension plans (RPPs) are established by employers or unions for employees. These data come from the Pension Plans in Canada Survey as of January 1, 2010.

A defined benefit plan defines the benefits to be paid according to a formula stipulated in the plan text. The employer's contributions are not predetermined, but are a function of the cost of providing the promised pension.

A defined contribution plan specifies the contributions made by the employer, as well as by the employee if the plan is contributory. Pension benefits paid are a function of accumulated contributions and investment returns.

Membership is defined as active members of the pension plan currently making contributions to the pension plan or for whom contributions are being made.

A plan has a solvency deficiency when its assets divided by its liabilities (values determined as if the plan had terminated) is less than 1.

The pension coverage rate, that is, the proportion of all employees covered by an RPP, was 39.2% in 2009 (40.4% for women and 38.1% for men). The rate for women was higher because of the high proportion of women employed in the public sector, where the majority (87.3%) of female employees are covered by a pension plan.

The coverage rate for RPPs in the private sector was just over 25%.

Defined benefit plans most prevalent

Just over 4,529,000 people, or 75% of those with a RPP, were in a defined benefit pension plan, a 0.5% increase. The rate of participation in these plans has declined constantly from more than 85% a decade earlier.

Membership in the other most frequent type of plan, defined contribution, increased 2.4% to 961,845. This type has gained in popularity over the years and accounted for 16% of all RPP membership as of January 1, 2010. More than 85% of defined contribution members are in the private sector.

Membership in hybrid and combination pension plans accounted for 9% of total membership.

Contributions reach record high

Total employer and employee contributions to RPPs in 2009 amounted to a record high of $53.4 billion. Employers contributed 71% of the total, up from 67% in 2008.

About 33% of the employer contributions, roughly $12.6 billion, were for unfunded liabilities, more than twice the amount in 2008.

The market value of assets in RPPs reached $1,098 billion in 2009, up 8.0% from 2008, when significant losses were recorded as a result of the economic downturn. However, assets in 2009 remained 5.0% below the high of $1,155 billion in 2007.

In terms of solvency, the latest results for the three-year period ending in 2009 show that 83% of RPPs had unfunded liabilities. This means their liabilities were greater than their assets. However, less than 30% of RPPs had a solvency ratio of less than 80%, that is, 80 cents of assets for each dollar of liabilities.

Available on CANSIM: tables 280-0008 to 280-0014 and 280-0016 to 280-0027.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 2609.

For further information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Statistics Canada's National Contact Centre (613-951-8116: toll-free 1-800-263-1136;, Communications Division.