Web Article
February 2023

Employee Ownership by the Numbers

This page presents counts and characteristics of ESOPs and other employee stock ownership plans in the U.S., using data made available by the U.S. Department of Labor, the General Social Survey, and other sources.

Page Contents

How Many ESOPs Are There?

In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, 225 new ESOPs were created, covering 41,154 participants.

In total, there are approximately 6,467 ESOPs in the United States, holding total assets of over $1.6 trillion. The number of unique companies with an ESOP is approximately 6,232 (a company may sponsor multiple plans).

A note on the timing of the data: The DOL’s data is sourced from Form 5500 retirement plan filings, which are due seven months after the end of each plan year, or nine and a half months if an extension is requested. The DOL takes up to a year to process and clean the data once received, and the NCEO does additional supplementation and analysis of the data after the public release. As a result, there is typically a time lag of up to two years. The benefit of the DOL's long process is that the data is comprehensive and reflects close to perfect coverage of every ESOP (and every other retirement plan) in the U.S.

How Many Workers Are in ESOPs?

ESOPs cover 13.9 million participants, of whom over 10.1 million are active participants—those currently employed and covered by an ESOP.

Table 1: Table of Plans, Participants, and Assets

  Plans Total participants Active participants Employer securities (millions) Total plan assets (millions)
Privately held companies 5,887 1,934,870 1,396,713 $162,397 $221,525
Small plans (under 100 participants) 3,415 151,648 113,647 $17,042 $20,101
Large plans (100+ participants) 2,472 1,783,222 1,283,066 $145,354 $201,423
Publicly traded companies 580 12,012,795 8,774,848 $141,214 $1,612,327
Total 6,467 13,947,665 10,171,561 $303,611 $1,833,853

Contributions and Distributions

ESOPs paid out over $149 billion dollars to participants in 2020. Total contributions to ESOP accounts were over $94 billion in 2020, an average of $6,758 in contributions per participant.

Table 2: ESOP contributions and distributions, 2020

  ESOP contributions (millions) ESOP benefits paid (millions)
Privately held companies $8,788 $18,333
Publicly traded companies $85,470 $131,300
Total in 2020 $94,259 $149,633

These numbers are sourced from the NCEO's analysis of the Private Pension Plan (PPP) Research Files made available by the Department of Labor from data reported on the Form 5500. The PPP file is created each year by the Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) Office of Policy and Research (OPR) at the DOL and is used to generate and analyze aggregate statistics on the characteristics of the private pension plan universe. Direct Filing Entities (DFEs), welfare plans, one-participant plans, public retirement plans, and duplicate filings of other retirement plans are excluded from the Research File. NCEO methodology follows DOL standard practices with any exceptions noted.

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 plans are defined as plans with 100 or more total participants and small plans as plans with fewer than 100 participants.

Publicly traded companies are identified by the NCEO using data from Compustat and web searches. Companies are classified as public if their stock is traded on the NYSE, NASDAQ, or AMEX exchanges.

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 services or manufacturing companies:

Figure 1: Industries of Privately Held ESOP Companies



For more details about ESOPs in each industry, see our ESOP Industry Fact Sheets.

S vs. C Corporations

A majority (64%) of privately held ESOPs are in S corporations:

Table 3: S Corporation vs. C Corporation ESOPs, privately held companies

  Plans Total participants Active participants Employer securities (millions) Total plan assets (millions)
S Corporations 3,748 1,031,970 738,165 $120,741 $140,578
C Corporations 2,139 902,901 658,548 $41,655 $80,947
Note: We classify an ESOP as an S Corporation if the plan's Form 5500 filing uses the pension benefit code 2Q, "The employer maintaining this ESOP is an S Corporation."

Leveraged and Non-leveraged ESOPs

The sale of company stock to an ESOP is commonly financed with one or more loans. ESOPs financed this way are termed leveraged ESOPs. Approximately half (51%) of privately held ESOPs are currently leveraged, as described in table 3 below. Note that some plans that are currently non-leveraged may have been leveraged initially. In recent years, approximately two-thirds of newly created ESOPs have been leveraged.

Table 4: Leveraged vs. Non-leveraged ESOPs, privately held companies

  Plans Total participants Active participants Employer securities (millions) Total plan assets (millions)
Leveraged ESOPs 3,267 778,746 561,923 $80,819 $98,505
Non-leveraged ESOPs 3,115 1,126,672 816,746 $78,770 $11,739
Note: We classify an ESOP as leveraged if the plan's Form 5500 filing uses the pension benefit code 2P, "An ESOP that acquires employer securities with borrowed money or other debt-financing techniques."

Where Are ESOPs Located?

The map below shows the number of privately held ESOPs and participants in each state. Hover over a state for details.

For more details about ESOPs in each state, see our State ESOP Fact Sheets.

For a full nationwide list of all ESOPs containing detailed information on each plan, see our ESOP database.

How is the ESOP Universe Changing Over Time?

The below table shows the change in total ESOPs and total participants over time from 2014 to 2020.

Table 5: Count of ESOPs, Participants, and Plan Assets, 2014-2020

Filing Year Number of ESOPs Total participants, millions Active participants, millions
2014 6,717 14.05 10.56
2015 6,669 14.43 10.82
2016 6,624 14.21 10.61
2017 6,527 14.26 10.58
2018 6,501 14.05 10.37
2019 6,482 13.90 10.21
2020 6,467 13.95 10.17

The number of ESOPs has been on a slight decline in recent years, driven in particular by a drop in prevalence of ESOPs at publicly traded companies.

Table 6: Changes in Public vs. Privately Held ESOPs, 2014-2020

Filing Year Privately held ESOPs Publicly traded ESOPs Total participants, privately held ESOPs, millions Total participants, publicly traded ESOPs, millions
2014 5,949 768 1.92 12.13
2015 5,953 716 2.16 12.28
2016 5,952 672 2.04 12.24
2017 5,928 633 2.19 12.04
2018 5,863 638 2.02 12.04
2019 5,880 602 2.04 11.87
2020 5,887 580 1.94 12.01

New ESOP Creation

Since 2015, an average of 254 new ESOPs have been created each year. The below chart shows new ESOP creation since 2015.

Figure 2: New ESOP Creation, 2015-2020


Other Forms of Employee Stock Ownership in the U.S.

There are over 4,000 profit-sharing, stock bonus, or other defined contribution plans that are not ESOPs but are substantially (at least 20%) invested in employer stock. These plans cover a little over 787,000 participants. The number of these plans has been steadily rising, as shown in Table 7:

Table 7: Change in other equity-sharing retirement plans since 2010

Filing year Number of ESOP-like plans
2010 1,676
2011 1,985
2012 2,231
2013 2,528
2014 2,898
2015 3,241
2016 3,773
2017 4,075
2018 4,468
2019 4,680
2020 4,866


It is not possible to determine if other forms of stock ownership are broad-based as ESOPs are required to be.

The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) is a triennial cross-sectional survey of U.S. families. The survey data include information on families’ balance sheets, pensions, income, and demographic characteristics. This survey reports on direct and indirect holdings of publicly traded stock. According to the most data, In 2019, about 53 percent of families owned stocks: 31 percent of families in the bottom half of the income distribution held stocks, whereas about 70 percent of families in the upper-middle-income group held stock, and more than 90 percent of families in the top decile held stock. In addition to these differences across income groups in stock market participation rates, there are significant differences in the value of stock market holdings, conditional on holding stock. In 2019, the conditional median value of stock holdings for the bottom half of the income distribution was about $10,000, compared with $40,000 for the upper-middle-income group and nearly $439,000 for the top income decile.

Employee Stock Purchase Plans (ESPPs) typically provide an opportunity for employees to periodically purchase discounted company shares using payroll deductions. In April 2020, Aon reported that 49% of S&P 500 companies and 38% of Russell 3000 companies offer an ESPP to their employees.

Worker Cooperatives

Worker cooperatives are businesses owned and governed by their employees. Member employees govern the business, share its profits, and make decisions democratically on a one-member, one-vote basis. Worker cooperatives are less common than other forms of employee ownership. According to the Democracy Collaborative, there are at least 465 worker cooperatives in the U.S. with 6,454 workers.

Research on Employee Ownership and the Economy

An extensive research literature explores how employee ownership affects the economic fortunes of workers, companies, and communities. Read our summary here.

For questions about this or any of our research, contact the NCEO's Research Director Nancy Wiefek at [email protected] / 510-208-1312

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