ESOPs by the Numbers
Updated November 2016This page presents counts and characteristics of ESOPs using data made available by the U.S. Department of Labor.
How Many ESOPs Are There?As of 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 6,717 ESOPs in the United States, holding total assets of more than $1.3 trillion.
How Many Workers Are in ESOPs?These plans cover close to 14 million participants, of whom 10.6 million are active participants—those currently employed and covered by an ESOP.
Table 1: Stand-alone ESOPs and KSOPs
|Plans||Total participants||Active participants||Employer securities (millions)||Total plan assets (millions)|
|All stand-alone ESOPs||5,533||1,771,924||1,287,254||$115,464||$130,867|
|Large private companies||2,033||1,055,768||747,368||$75,149||$83,102|
|Small private companies||3,349||139,828||104,622||$9,887||$11,544|
|Large private companies||410||1,737,299||1,254,417||$24,818||$162,854|
|Small private companies||360||13,892||10,402||$773||$1,515|
Definitions of ESOPs are based on the plan characteristic codes filled in by the sponsor on line 8 of the form, or these codes were added as a result of the DOL's cleaning and editing of the data: 2O ("ESOP other than a leveraged ESOP") or 2P ("Leveraged ESOP—An ESOP that acquires employer securities with borrowed money or other debt-financing techniques"). Unlike the DOL, however, our count also includes plans without the 2O or 2P codes but with the code 2Q ("The employer maintaining this ESOP is an S corporation").
Large is defined as 100 or more total participants and small plans have fewer than 100 participants.
KSOPs are defined as ESOPs with a 401(k) plan feature.
Active participants include any workers currently in employment covered by a plan and who are earning or retaining credited service under a plan.
Total asset amounts shown do not include the value of allocated insurance contracts of the type described in 29 CFR 2520, 104-44.
What Kinds of Companies Have ESOPs?ESOPs are represented across a wide variety of industries, with a plurality of plans in manufacturing companies:
Figure 1: Industries of ESOP Sponsors
Where Are ESOPs Located?The midwestern U.S. is home to the greatest number of ESOPs, followed by the South:
Figure 2: Locations of ESOPs
The below table breaks down the number of ESOPs by region, sub-region, and state.
Table 2: ESOPs by location
|State||Number of ESOPs||Total Participants|
|East North Central||1,213||2,280,601|
|West North Central||907||1,103,976|
|District of Columbia||15||10,124|
|East South Central||347||382,136|
|West South Central||623||2,269,487|
How Is the ESOP Universe Changing Over Time?The below chart and table show the change in total ESOPs and total participants over time from 2002 to 2014. Despite a downtrend in the number of individual ESOPs, the number of participants has steadily increased.
Figure 3: Count of ESOPs and Total Participants, 2002-2014Table 3: Count of ESOPs and Total Participants, 2002-2014
|Filing Year||Number of ESOPs||Total participants||Active participants|
Note: Before 2010, the research file included Form 5500 filings from all private pension plans having 100 or more participants and a 5% sample of smaller private pension plans. Beginning with the 2010 Research File, sampling is no longer used because all large and small defined benefit and defined contribution plans are now included.
Most current plans were created before 1997. These plans also contain by far the greatest number of participants, as shown below.
Table 4: ESOPs by Age
|Plan effective year (year created)||Number of plans||% of plans||Total participants|
|1998 - 2007||2,231||33%||992,721|
How Often Are These Counts Updated?The most comprehensive data on ESOPs is collected on the Form 5500. The Form 5500 series is a set of forms developed by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Internal Revenue Service, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation so that benefit plans such as ESOPs could satisfy annual reporting requirements under the law.
Form 5500 filings are due seven months after each plan year ends. The DOL does significant work based on their historical knowledge of the companies and plans to correct for common errors and to weight the data to more precisely account for missing data and late filers. Generally, research files for each new filing year are available roughly a year after that deadline, e.g., filing year 2014 data was posted in September 2016.
For questions about this or any of our research, contact NCEO Research Director Nancy Wiefek at email@example.com or 510-208-1312.