Numerous changes to the retirement industry in the past decade apparently haven’t had much effect on participation rates among married couples.
A study by the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Office of Retirement and Disability Policy examined pension plan and defined contribution plan participation data from 1998 and 2009. It focused its attention on married couples as a unit and how their involvement in retirement plans has changed in that 10-year time frame.
Using Census Bureau data matched with Social Security administrative records, the office examined participation in employer-provided retirement plans by plan type among couples where both spouses are present and the husband is a full-time wage and salary worker aged 25-60. It measured participation by specific plan type for married couples rather than married workers separately because couples share their retirement income, regardless of whether those contributions are through the husband or the wife.
It found that married couples participate more in pension plans than single individuals, but that participation has stayed roughly the same.
Among all full-time workers, about two-thirds participated in a pension plan in both 1998 and 2009. About 72 percent of married men who work full time participated in a retirement plan in both years. Similarly, 72 percent of married women who work full time participated in a pension plan in 2009, an increase of about 5 percentage points from the 1998 participation level.
In about 10 percent of couples in 2009, the wife was the only one participating in a pension plan compared with about 37 percent of couples where the husband was the only one participating. The study also looked at defined contribution plans in those two years. It found that 60 percent of couples in 2009 had at least one of the spouses contributing to a DC plan. In half of those couples, the husband was the only one contributing.
Among couples where both spouses contributed to a plan, the wife's contribution comprised around 42 percent of the total family contribution both in 1998 and 2009.
The decade between 1998 and 2009 saw many changes related to retirement plans, including expanded access to DC plans, DB-plan freezes, expanded auto-enrollment into DC plans after the implementation of the 2006 Pension Protection Act, and the Great Recession of 2007–2009.
The study concluded that there was little change in participation rates and in the prevalence of plan types between 1998 and 2009.
Its authors said that, given the major changes affecting retirement plan participation and types of plans offered by employers, deeper analysis is needed to investigate the reasons behind the stability in participation rates over this decade.