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How access to retirement plans compares across 9 different industries
Employers Reports

How access to retirement plans compares across 9 different industries

Chandler Friedman

Americans have more than $39 trillion saved up for retirement, but not everyone will be able to retire comfortably. That’s due — in part — to how retirement works in the United States.

When most people retire, they get a monthly benefit from Social Security, which in March 2023 averaged $1,696 a month. That may not be enough to cover monthly costs; for someone who retired at age 65 and earned average wages for their adult life, social security benefits represent a little more than one-third of past earnings. Many people will help supplement their nest egg with an employer pension or a 401(k) and personal savings.

However, not every employer offers a retirement plan. That lack of access may make it more difficult for some to set aside enough money for the future.

To better understand which industries are more likely to offer workers retirement plans — and who is participating most often in them — we collected data on access to retirement benefits from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Compensation Survey. Overall, the BLS data analysis found that 72% of civilian workers have access to retirement benefits from their employers. In the U.S., primary, secondary, and special education school teachers have the highest rate of access to retirement benefits at 96%.

Read on to take a closer look at retirement participation among nine civilian industries in the American workforce broken down by March 2022 data. To provide a snapshot of each industry’s likelihood of offering workplace retirement plans, this analysis highlights three key data points:

  • Access to retirement benefits, which refers to the percentage of all employees within the industry who are offered employer-sponsored benefits, which can include pensions and 401(k) plans.
  • Participation rate, or the percentage of people within an industry who are contributing to their retirement savings
  • Take-up rate, which is how the BLS categorizes employees who have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan and decide to “take up” the benefit by participating in the plan.

Construction, extraction, farming, fishing, and forestry

  • Access to retirement benefits: 65%
  • Participation: 51%
  • Take-up rate: 78%

Access to retirement benefits is traditionally low in blue-collar occupations. Looking just at the construction industry, the Workers Defense Fund conducted research in the southern United States and found that only 2 in 10 workers had access to employee-sponsored retirement plans.

Unionization can help provide benefits within these industries as they provide more collective bargaining power on behalf of employees seeking changes for workplace policies. In the U.S., 95% of all union workers have access to retirement benefits.

The Center for Construction Research and Training found that among unionized construction workers, 55% had access to retirement plans versus 26% of non-union workers. Those in white-collar construction jobs also had a higher participation rate than those in blue-collar roles.

  • Access to retirement benefits: 71%
  • Participation: 41%
  • Take-up rate: 57%

Employees in sales run the gamut from part-time retail environments to road warriors who put in full work weeks and then some. Many part-time salespeople may not have access to retirement benefits because they may not meet their employers' requirements. They may also view the job as one they won't hold onto for very long, which may discourage savings.

Installation, maintenance, and repair

  • Access to retirement benefits: 71%
  • Participation: 55%
  • Take-up rate: 77%

This occupational group includes a wide variety of industries, including auto repair, security systems installation, locksmithing, wind turbine service, computer repair, and bike repair. These skilled workers could be part of large or small companies or be self-employed. For those who work for small businesses, retirement plans are generally harder to come by.

Transportation and material moving

  • Access to retirement benefits: 73%
  • Participation: 55%
  • Take-up rate: 75%

Many workers in this sector—particularly truckers—work for multiple employers. Unions in this industry created multi-employer pension plans where many businesses contribute to one larger pension fund from which eligible retirees can draw. Unfortunately, many of these plans have been underfunded, and workers risk losing these retirement funds within the next few years.

In March 2021, President Joe Biden signed a law to provide $90 billion in coronavirus pandemic relief funds to these pensions. In July 2022, the American Rescue Plan Act program was amended to let pension plans invest part of the relief money in stocks to hopefully earn better returns.


  • Access to retirement benefits: 74%
  • Participation: 59%
  • Take-up rate: 79%

Production jobs require little in the way of formal education — a high school diploma or equivalent is all that's needed for many roles in this field. That said, low wages are also prevalent in this sector. The 2021 median annual wage in this sector was $37,710, compared to $45,760 for all occupations, which leaves little money available to save for retirement.

Office and administrative support

  • Access to retirement benefits: 77%
  • Participation: 60%
  • Take-up rate: 78%

Office and administrative support workers are traditionally on the lower end of the earnings scale. In 2021, the median annual wage for this group was $38,050, which is $7,700 less than the overall median wage. This can make saving for retirement difficult.

That said, office and administrative support workers have higher access to retirement benefits than the average worker. They also have a higher-than-average take-up rate, which shows a strong importance placed on saving for retirement.

Protective service

  • Access to retirement benefits: 78%
  • Participation: 66%
  • Take-up rate: 85%

This occupational group includes police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, and private investigators. Unions are strong within this sector—it has the second-highest union membership rate of all occupational groups. One in three workers are union members, which allows for strong collective bargaining capabilities.

This sector has one of the highest take-up rates of all workers, partly due to the strong pension programs of many police and fire departments. Many plans allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of service, which gives some workers the opportunity to retire in their 40s and 50s and still get a good portion of their annual salary.

  • Access to retirement benefits: 87%
  • Participation: 74%
  • Take-up rate: 85%

Teachers are included in this category, and good retirement benefits are often a key element of their overall compensation. Primary, secondary, and special education teachers are the occupational subcategory with the highest access to and participation in retirement plans, at 96% and 83%, respectively. Teacher-specific pension funds are some of the largest in the country, with the California State Teachers' Retirement System and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas both ranking among the largest 10 pension funds in the United States.

Nurses are also represented in this category, and they, too, have a high access rate of 89%. Their participation rate outpaces the overall category at 76%.

Management, business, and financial

  • Access to retirement benefits: 88%
  • Participation: 79%
  • Take-up rate: 89%

Workers in this occupational group have the highest overall access to retirement benefits, as well as the highest overall take-up rate. Workers in management have the highest median salary of all occupational groups. At $102,450, the median wage is $56,690 above the national median. Business and financial employees also make an above-average median salary of $76,570.

Because many retirement plans allow employees to contribute a proportion of their salary, these workers can potentially build large retirement accounts as their incomes grow.

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The information provided herein is general in nature and is for informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for specific tax, legal and/or financial advice that considers all relevant facts and circumstances. You are advised to consult a qualified financial adviser or tax professional before relying on the information provided herein.