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Data Show Widespread Employee Ownership in U.S.

Data from the 2014 General Social Survey show that 22.9 million American workers own stock in their company through a 401(k) plan, ESOP, direct stock grant, or similar plan, while 8.5 million hold stock options (some employees have options and own stock through other plans, so these numbers are not additive). That means that 19.5% of the total workforce, but 34.9% of those who work for companies that have stock, own stock through some kind of benefit plan, while 7.2% of the workforce, but 13.1% of those in companies with stock, hold options.

The survey source is the 2014 General Social Survey, one of the largest national surveys on work and other issues. The sample size was 885 working adults who were asked very specific questions about their participation in these plans. The survey is a project of the National Opinion Research Center. The analysis and questions were designed by Douglas Kruse and Joseph Blasi of Rutgers University and Richard Freeman of Harvard University for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Shared Capitalism Project. The project received funding from several sources, including the NBER, the Employee Ownership Foundation, the Beyster Institute, the Plan Sponsor Council of America,and the NCEO.

The data show a slight decline in the number of people owning company stock through a benefit plan or stock grant from the 2002 numbers, when 21.2% of the workforce owned shares this way. The numbers dropped to 17.1 in 2006 and 17.8% in 2010, so the 2014 numbers show growth. The median ownership holdings, however, remained at $10,000. The percentage of workers receiving options fell from 12.3% to 7.2%. With options, new shareholder approval rules, growing concern with dilution, and new accounting rules are the culprit, although the decline is less than pundits anticipated. It was widely predicted that rank-and-file options would largely disappear; instead, they simply shrank to about the level they were in the late 1990s.

The tables below provide details on the data.

Employee Ownership Trends 2002–2014

By % of all private sector employees% of employees in for-profit companies% of employees in companies with stock
Own company stock*21.2%17.5%17.4%19.5%21.8%34.9%
Hold stock options or similar grants13.1%9.3%8.7%8.1%8.5%13.1%
By total number of employees
Own company stock23.020.018.722.922.922.9
Hold stock options or similar grants14.310.
Sample size1,2421,173795885701441
*Includes ESOPs, 401(k) plans, stock options and similar grants, and ESPPs

Size of Financial Stake for Employees Holding Shares, 2002–2014*

*This question was not asked in 2010.

Demographic Trends

When broken down by demographics, a few trends are striking. As the size of the company increases, so does the likelihood both of owning company stock and holding options. The same pattern is found for income. The table below shows the details.
% Owning Company Stock% Holding Stock Options
Yearly earnings
# of employees
1-9 8.8%4.6%
100-499 16.8%2.0%
1,000-1,999 28.0%11.6%
2,000-9,999 32.3%12.4%
10,000+ 37.9%20.2%

Data Tables

For tables with more data, click here (PDF format).

A Note on NCEO Support for This Project

The NCEO does not pay any overhead costs of any kind related to contributions or grants. When we contribute to research, which we do very rarely, it is our policy that funds be used strictly for research expenses alone and not for any overhead costs or other costs related to grants or gifts.

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