Pension Satellite Account

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The continuing overall improvement in financial markets and, in particular, the recovery of Canadian equity markets in 2010, drove pension wealth to nearly $2.3 trillion at year end. The total value of pension assets in Canada increased 9.8% in 2010, following a 15.7% advance the year before.

Assets in individual registered saving plans and employer-based pension plans combined accounted for 92.3% of total pension wealth in 2010. Social security plans made up the remainder.

Wealth in employer-based pension plans reached almost $1.3 trillion at the end of 2010, up 8.9% from 2009 following a 12.7% increase the year before. By the end of 2010, assets in individual registered saving plans amounted to $833.9 billion, up 10.5% from a year earlier. This was half the rate of growth of 21.2% in 2009. Assets in social security plans increased 13.4% to $175.4 billion, virtually the same rate of growth as in 2009.

During 2009 (the last year for which data are available for pension flows), the increase in pension wealth was driven primarily by the appreciation of asset values, largely reflecting the rally in global equity markets after March 2009. The sustained improvement in financial markets raised pension wealth in individual registered saving plans (+$106.9 billion), employer-based pension plans (+$75.1 billion) and social security plans (+$6.1 billion).

Contributions to pension plans increased 10.0% in 2009 compared with a 0.5% increase in 2008. This was the fastest rate of growth since 2004. The strength of contributions was associated mainly with employer-based pension plans, where contributions rose 20.4% in 2009 after declining 0.3% in 2008.

Contributions to social security pension plans increased 5.0% in 2009 following a 3.6% gain in 2008. However, contributions to individual registered saving plans continued to decline, falling 1.0% in 2009 compared with a 2.2% decrease in 2008.

The pace of pension withdrawals also picked up in 2009, rising 3.8% compared with a 2.1% increase in 2008. Withdrawals from employer-based pension plans rose 6.0% in 2009, while withdrawals from social security plans increased 4.9%. Withdrawals from individual registered saving plans fell 2.8% in 2009 following a 4.0% decline the year before.

Investment income declined 12.3% in 2009 following a 3.7% decrease in 2008. Investment income fell across all three pension tiers: individual registered saving plans (-11.7%); employer-based pension plans (-13.0%); and social security plans (-7.3%).

Note: The Pension Satellite Account (PSA) provides an integrated stock-flow representation of the Canadian pension system. The PSA accounts fully articulate the wealth positions (level of assets) as well as the pension inflows (contributions, investment income), outflows (withdrawals), and realized and unrealized gains and losses which contribute to change in wealth (revaluations and other changes in assets).

The PSA presents annual estimates for each of the three tiers of the Canadian pension system: social security, employer-based pension plans, and voluntary individual registered saving plans. The institutional dimension of the PSA presentation has been mainly defined by data availability. The breakdown of the three tiers into further detail is provided where data supported it and reflects a mixture of detail by program and by institutional dimension.

This release covers the level of pension assets at market value for the period 1990 to 2010 and the pension flows for the period 1990 to 2009. Flows for 2010 will be available with the next PSA release in the fall of 2012 when final administrative data files for 2010 become available.

Available on CANSIM: tables 378-0117 and 378-0118.

An overview of the scope and structure of the Pension Satellite Account, as well as sources and methods used to derive its stocks and flows estimates is available in the Guide to the Canadian Pension Satellite Account (13-599-X, free), from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

The National economic accounts module, accessible from the Key resource module of our website, features an up-to-date portrait of national and provincial economies and their structure.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact the information officer (613-951-3640,, Income and Expenditure Accounts Division.