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ESOPs by the Numbers

Updated March 2018

This page presents counts and characteristics of ESOPs using data made available by the U.S. Department of Labor.


  1. How Many ESOPs Are There?
  2. How Many Workers Are in ESOPs?
  3. What Kinds of Companies Have ESOPs?
  4. Where Are ESOPs Located?
  5. How Is the ESOP Universe Changing Over Time?
  6. How Often Are These Counts Updated?

How Many ESOPs Are There?

As of 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 6,669 ESOPs in the United States, holding total assets of nearly $1.3 trillion.

How Many Workers Are in ESOPs?

These plans cover over 14 million participants, of whom 10.8 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 ESOPs5,5051,745,6031,269,307$119,149$133,413
Private companies5,3751,330,339963,019$98,492$107,481
Large private companies2,0311,190,685858,374$87,995$95,356
Small private companies3,344139,655104,645$10,497$12,124
Public companies129415,264306,287$20,657$25,932
All KSOPs1,16412,686,0199,560,419$145,193$1,162,820
Private companies7661,772,8291,279,510$25,019$163,091
Large private companies4201,759,2191,269,203$24,192$161,585
Small private companies34513,61010,307$827$1,506
Public companies39910,913,1908,280,909$120,173$999,728
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 plans are defined as plans with 100 or more total participants and small plans as plans with fewer than 100 participants.

KSOPs are defined as ESOPs with a 401(k) plan feature. Stand-alone ESOPs have no such 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 services or manufacturing companies:

Figure 1: Industries of ESOP Sponsors

S vs. C Corporations

The majority of ESOPs are in C corporations:

Table 2: S Corporation vs. C Corporation ESOPs
PlansTotal participantsActive participantsEmployer securities (millions)Total plan assets (millions)
S Corporations3,192850,085604,779$69,654$81,504
C Corporations3,47713,581,53710,224,947$194,687$1,214,728
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."

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
New England 3081,064,787
New Hampshire316,407
Rhode Island16225,757
Middle Atlantic7712,296,085
New Jersey147763,450
New York3221,143,711
Midwest 2,1153,321,514
East North Central1,2092,220,400
West North Central9061,111,114
North Dakota5924,456
South Dakota256,738
South Atlantic 1,0082,836,213
District of Columbia149,683
North Carolina125798,427
South Carolina6141,488
West Virginia274,529
East South Central344374,768
West South Central6142,691,382
New Mexico447,253

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 2010 to 2015. Despite a slight downward trend in the number of individual ESOPs, the number of ESOP participants has steadily increased.

Figure 3: Count of ESOPs and Total Participants, 2010-2015
Table 4: Count of ESOPs and Total Participants, 2010-2015
Filing YearNumber of ESOPsTotal participantsActive participants
20136,79513,927,535 10,578,114
20146,717 14,050,344 10,563,219
20156,669 14,431,622 10,829,726

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. Note that these numbers include all newly filing ESOPs, potentially including some newly established plans at companies that had already had an ESOP in place.

Figure 4: New ESOP Creation, 2010-2015

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 19983,12347%12,584,122
1998 - 20072,09131%992,721
Since 20081,45522%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 to allow benefit plans such as ESOPs to satisfy annual reporting requirements under the law. The statistics on this page are sourced from NCEO's analysis of the DOL's Form 5500 research files.

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 / 510-208-1312, or NCEO Research Associate Nathan Nicholson at / 510-208-1313.

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