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ESOPs by the Numbers

Updated March 2017

This 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 over 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
PlansTotal participantsActive participantsEmployer securities (millions)Total plan assets (millions)
All stand-alone ESOPs5,5331,771,9241,287,254$115,464$130,867
Private companies5,3821,195,596851,989$85,035$94,646
Large private companies2,0331,055,768747,368$75,149$83,102
Small private companies3,349139,828104,622$9,887$11,544
Public companies151576,328435,264$30,429$36,222
All KSOPs1,18412,278,4209,275,965$154,763$1,175,972
Private companies7711,751,1911,264,819$25,591$164,369
Large private companies4101,737,2991,254,417$24,818$162,854
Small private companies36013,89210,402$773$1,515
Public companies41410,527,2308,011,147$129,172$1,011,604
Total6,71714,050,34410,563,219$270,227$1,306,839
Source and Methodology: These numbers are sourced from the NCEO's analysis of the Private Pension Plan (PPP) Research File made available by the Department of Labor from data reported on the Form 5500. The Research 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 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

S vs. C Corporations

The majority of ESOPs are in C corporations:

Table 2: S Corporations vs. C Corporation ESOPs
PlansTotal participantsActive participantsEmployer securities (millions)Total plan assets (millions)
S Corporations3,095809,743572,319$65,005$77,143
C Corporations3,62213,240,6019,990,900$205,222$1,229,696

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
US ESOP LocationsThe below table breaks down the number of ESOPs by region, sub-region, and state.

Table 3: ESOPs by location
StateNumber of ESOPsTotal Participants
Northeast1,1073,347,434
New England 3091,080,874
Connecticut77714,337
Maine256,609
Massachusetts130133,304
New Hampshire336,417
Rhode Island15214,729
Vermont295,478
Middle Atlantic7982,266,560
New Jersey155751,312
New York3311,117,611
Pennsylvania312397,637
Midwest 2,1203,384,577
East North Central1,2132,280,601
Indiana171130,448
Illinois362926,527
Michigan215276,497
Ohio287757,966
Wisconsin178189,163
West North Central9071,103,976
Iowa17483,872
Kansas10765,873
Minnesota275790,265
Missouri19696,765
Nebraska7531,378
North Dakota5629,467
South Dakota246,356
South1,9735,476,581
South Atlantic 1,0032,824,958
Delaware860,636
District of Columbia1510,124
Florida181530,203
Georgia145555,465
Maryland135325,103
North Carolina126739,306
South Carolina6242,550
Virginia302557,143
West Virginia294,428
East South Central347382,136
Alabama6945,103
Kentucky111134,263
Mississippi5628,046
Tennessee111174,724
West South Central6232,269,487
Arkansas581,281,274
Louisiana8240,925
Oklahoma8956,569
Texas394890,719
West1,5121,841,604
Mountain420151,161
Arizona10843,738
Colorado11033,926
Idaho3022,397
New Mexico436,919
Montana326,200
Utah5726,876
Nevada258,904
Wyoming152,201
Pacific1,0921,690,443
Alaska261,870
California8191,121,759
Hawaii6515,779
Oregon7563,699
Washington107487,336

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, 2002-2014
Table 4: Count of ESOPs and Total Participants, 2002-2014
Filing YearNumber of ESOPsTotal participantsActive participants
20028,87410,230,4257,946,652
20037,93410,049,1547,570,321
20047,34810,243,2837,826,741
20057,19811,998,3199,448,271
20067,38412,584,7729,850,008
20077,32613,218,80810,173,536
20087,30513,037,94610,055,117
20096,69012,996,71110,014,524
20107,13813,477,18710,306,818
20116,94113,462,95510,288,363
20126,90813,823,59510,603,334
20136,79513,927,535 10,578,114
20146,717 14,050,344 10,563,219
The steep decline in the number of plans from 2002 to 2004 is likely attributable to the termination of a large number of small, dubiously legitimate plans that were set up to take advantage of then-recent S corporation ESOP tax law. Congress, the IRS, and the ESOP community all acted to prevent these plans from operating and almost all were terminated.

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.

New ESOP Creation

Since 2010, an average of 229 new ESOPs have been created each year. The below chart shows new ESOP creation since 2010. These numbers include all newly filing ESOPs; they do not exclude new plans at companies that previously had an ESOP in place.

Figure 4: New ESOP Creation, 2010-2014

Age of Existing ESOPs

Most current plans were created before 1997. These plans also contain by far the greatest number of participants, as shown below.

Table 5: ESOPs by Age
Plan effective year (year created)Number of plans% of plansTotal participants
Before 19983,04645%12,584,122
1998 - 20072,23133%992,721
Since 20081,44021%473,502

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 nwiefek@nceo.org or 510-208-1312.

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