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Pension scheme membership lowest since 1953

Now just 2.9m active in private sector pensions

workers considering joining pension scheme

Membership of private sector pension schemes has fallen to its lowest level since 1953, according to new data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The newly-released statistics reveal that the number of active pension scheme members across both public and private sector schemes has continued to fall. In 2011 there were 8.2 million active members of occupational pension schemes, compared with 12.2 million at the peak in 1967.

Of the total number of active members in 2011, 5.3 million were in public sector schemes and 2.9 million were in private sector schemes, the lowest level since 1953. However, this figure is likely to rise as the new pensions auto-enrolment scheme is rolled out through an increasing number of employers.

Active members of occupational pension schemes by sector
Year Private sector (m) Public sector (m)
1953 3.1 3.1
1956 4.3 3.7
1963 7.2 3.9
1967 8.1 4.1
1971 6.8 4.3
1975 6 5.4
1979 6.1 5.5
1983 5.8 5.3
1987 5.8 4.8
1991 6.5 4.2
1995 6.2 4.1
2000 5.7 4.4
2004 4.8 5
2006 4 5.1
2007 3.6 5.2
2008 3.6 5.4
2009 3.3 5.4
2010 3 5.3
2011 2.9 5.3

Table notes

From 2000, organisations such as the Post Office and the BBC were reclassified from the public to the private sector. Source: ONS

Private sector pension scheme members pay in less

Private sector scheme members also paid in less than their public sector counterparts in 2011. For private sector defined benefit schemes, the average contribution rate in 2011 was 4.9% for employees and 14.2% for employers. For private sector defined contribution schemes, the average contribution rate in 2011 was 2.8% for employees and 6.6% for employers.

Overall pension scheme membership remains stable

Overall membership of occupational pension schemes consists of active members (usually current employees), members already receiving pension payments and those members with preserved pension entitlements (members who are no longer contributing into a scheme but have built up pension rights that will come into payment at normal pension age).

There has been an increase in total pension scheme membership since 1983. In 2011 total membership was 27.2 million compared to 18.9 million in 1983. After a peak of 28.1 million members in 2004 total membership has remained broadly around 27 million.

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