Pension Benefits & Pension Plans

Pension Benefits & Pension Plans

Mature Women Pension Benefits & Pension Plans Variables

This section reviews information on receipt of pension benefits and on pension plans for which the respondent is eligible. It also describes the special pension plan matching project conducted in conjunction with the 1989 survey. For details on income from Social Security/Railroad Retirement or disability insurance, see the Social Security & Disability section.

Pension Income

One focus of the Mature Women pension data collection was receipt of various entitlements by the respondent and/or other members of the respondent's household over a 12-month period. The 1967-72 and 1977 surveys gathered information on whether income had been received in the past calendar year from any local, state, or federal governmental pensions or from any other retirement pensions and, if so, the pension benefit amount received from each. The universe for the 1967-72 survey years was any (unspecified) family member; during 1977, receipt and amount information was collected separately for the respondent, her husband, and other family members. The 1974, 1976, and 1981 surveys fielded questions which did not distinguish the source of the pension benefit, combining Social Security and other pension income.

The 1982 and subsequent surveys included a set of pension income questions that asked, in a separate series, whether the respondent or her husband had received any pension income in the past calendar year/last 12 months and, if so, the amount. Beginning in 1982, coding categories consistently identified plan providers as one of the following: private employer, the military, the federal government, state or local government, a union, a personal plan (e.g., IRA, Keogh, or 401k), or another source.

Survey Instruments & Documentation: Questions on pension income are found in the "Assets & Income" questionnaire sections. Each year's Interviewer's Reference Manual contained detailed instructions on the specific types of monies to be included and excluded when recording each income source.

Pension Plans

In the late 1970s, the Mature Women surveys began to ask respondents about their expected retirement income. A series fielded in 1979 included questions about working respondents' eligibility for a pension plan--other than Social Security/Railroad Retirement--from their employers, the age at which eligibility for full or reduced benefits would be attained should they remain with their employer, and the age at which benefits could be drawn should they leave their current job today. Also collected was information on the eligibility of the respondent's spouse for other pension benefits from one or more of the following sources: a personal plan, a private employer, a government employer, or the military.

The 1982 and 1986 questionnaires included similar sets of questions designed to explore current/expected pension coverage of the household from current or past employment. Questions included: (1) whether the respondent or her spouse was eligible for or already receiving pension benefits from a current employer or from another job held in the past; (2) whether the respondent was eligible for or already receiving survivor benefits or other benefits from a husband's or ex-husband's employment or military service; and (3) whether the respondent or husband had a personal retirement (IRA or Keogh) plan.

More detailed data were collected beginning in 1989. This survey included questions designed to identify the most important pension plan for which a respondent was eligible through her own employment, the most important pension plan of a spouse, and any other benefits for which a respondent was eligible through a spouse's or ex-spouse's employment or military service. During this fielding, information was gathered on:

  • characteristics of the pension provider (whether the source of the pension was a private employer; the military; another federal, state, or local governmental unit; a union; etc.)
  • the industry of the provider and corresponding occupation of the respondent or spouse
  • characteristics of each plan (age/service year requirements and estimated pension benefit amounts for full versus reduced benefits; method of determining benefits; vesting rules; and for those already receiving benefits, actual monthly benefit amounts)

Information collected in 1989 about the respondent's pension plans was used to contact the plan providers and gather additional data. This special pension matching project is described below.

In 1992 and each subsequent survey, extensive data were collected regarding multiple employer-provided pension plans; coverage under pension plans obtained through self-employment was not included. Separate questionnaire sections collected information for both the respondent and her husband on: (1) future pensions from current employers, (2) current pensions from previous employers, and (3) future pensions from previous employers. Each series gathered details on participation in defined benefit and/or defined contribution pension plans offered by an employer. For those participating in a defined benefit plan, data were collected on the number of years included in the plan, the amount of money contributed, the age at which full or reduced benefits would be/were being received, and expected/actual benefit amounts at retirement. For those participating in a defined contribution plan, information was gathered on the type(s) of account plan (e.g., thrift or savings, 401k, 403b, Supplemental Retirement Account, profit sharing, stock purchase), amounts both employer and respondent contributed, the total dollar amount of contributions ever made, and how the dollars were invested. All respondents providing pension plan information were asked whether an early retirement option with incentives had been offered and, if so, the type(s) (credit for extra years of service, increased benefits, early benefits, lump sum settlement, etc.). Additional information was collected from those covered under a pension plan from a previous employer on type of employer, years worked for that employer, years included in the pension plan, and employment stop date. Those currently receiving a pension from a previous employer reported the year they started receiving this pension, the amount received, cost of living adjustments, and changes in the pension benefit amount over time.

Researchers should be aware of a shift in the way pension data were organized between 1995 and 1997. In 1995, the pension questions are included as part of the employer roster (a part of the questionnaire that collects information about any employers since the previous interview), so the pensions are organized by employer. This means that respondents reported all pensions from employer #01, then all pensions from employer #02, and so on. The employer number (#01, #02, etc.) is included in the variable title. In 1997-2003, pension data are located in a separate roster, so that plans are organized in the order they were reported by the respondent. The variable titles include only "PN #01," "PN #02," "PN #03," etc., for the first plan reported, second plan reported, and so on, regardless of which employer that plan is associated with. A set of ID variables then permits researchers to link the plans with the appropriate employer. The two systems are described further below.

The following example in table MW1 illustrates the implications of this change. Consider a respondent with four pensions, two from a current employer listed on line 2 in the employer roster, and two from a past employer listed on line 5 of the employer roster. In 1995, the respondent would start with question name RSP-108-ARR-02 and answer questions about the first plan for employer #02. She would then return to the same question, now named RSP-208-ARR-02, and provide information about the second plan with that employer. This pattern would repeat for plans three and four. In 1997, the respondent would answer a series of questions, beginning with question name RSP-102-ARR-01, about her first pension plan. She would next answer the same series of questions, now named RSP-102-ARR-02, about her second plan, and so on until all plans are reported. Researchers can then look at the R7PENS variables (R7PENS is the prefix of the question name) to determine which plan number a given plan is for a specific employer. Finally, researchers can use the R7EMPS variables to determine which employer matches with a given plan. Note that, in the example, the plans are listed by employer, but they would not necessarily be listed in that order.

Table MW1. Pension Plan Rostering Systems

  1995 1997-2003
Question name Variable title Question name Variable title Value of R7PENS Value of R7EMPS
Pension 1 RSP-108-ARR-02 1st pension plan-job #02 RSP-102-ARR-01 PN #01 R7PENS-ROST1=1 R7EMPS-ROST1=2
Pension 2 RSP-208-ARR-02 2nd pension plan-job #02 RSP-102-ARR-02 PN #02 R7PENS-ROST2=2 R7EMPS-ROST2=2
Pension 3 RSP-108-ARR-05 1st pension plan-job #05 RSP-102-ARR-03 PN #03 R7PENS-ROST3=1 R7EMPS-ROST3=5
Pension 4 RSP-208-ARR-05 2nd pension plan-job #05 RSP-102-ARR-04 PN #04 R7PENS-ROST4=2 R7EMPS-ROST4=5
Meaning 108, 208, etc. indicate the 1st, 2nd, etc., plan from the same employer. ARR-## indicates the employer number on the employer roster. ARR-## indicates the number of the plan on the pension roster. ROST# serves the same function in similar question names. The value indicates whether this is the 1st, 2nd, etc. plan for a single employer. The value indicates the number of the employer on the employer roster.

Related Variables: The Geographic Mobility section of the 1982 questionnaire collected information on the effect of the respondent's move to her current residence on (1) the job seniority rights of the respondent or spouse and (2) the retirement plans of the respondent or spouse. Coding categories delineated whether the respondent/spouse had lost some, none, or all seniority or pension/retirement rights or whether she or he had no such rights before the move. The fringe benefit series regularly includes "retirement pension program" as one of the benefits made available by a current or past employer. Availability should not be confused with actual coverage under a pension plan or receipt of pension benefits.

Survey Instruments & Documentation: Early questions on eligibility for pension benefits are found in the "Retirement," "Retirement and Pension," and "Current Labor Force Status & Work History" sections of the questionnaires. The 1992 pension data questions are located in the following sections of the 1992 questionnaire: "Respondent Employed: Future Pensions from Current Employer," "Respondent's Current Pension(s) from Previous Employers," "Respondent's Future Pension(s) from Previous Employers," "Husband Employed: Future Pensions from Current Employer," "Husband's Current Pension(s) from Previous Employers," and "Husband's Future Pension(s) from Previous Employers." The pension questions for 1995-2003 are located in the "Respondent Employer Supplement," "Husband Employer Supplement," and "Income and Assets" sections. The interviewer's reference manuals (Field Representative's Manuals) provide definitions of the various types of pension plans. See Appendix 24: Pension Plan Data Documentation in the Codebook Supplement for additional information.

Pension Matching Project (1989)

Address information collected during the regular 1989 survey permitted the Census Bureau to contact pension providers identified during the 1989 survey for the subsequent Pension Matching Project. Copies of the relevant Summary Plan Descriptions (SPD), actual pension plans, and Internal Revenue Forms-5500 were obtained. Details on each defined benefit or defined contribution plan were systematically coded by the Institute for Survey Research (ISR)  at the University of Michigan using the protocol developed for the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) . Respondents eligible for the pension-matching project were those who provided, during administration of the main questionnaire, pension plan and provider locator information for one or more of the pension sources listed in Table MW2. Of the approximately 1,900 respondent households reporting pension eligibility from one or more sources, plan information was linked to respondent information for 1,329 respondents. Use the series of 'ISR Pension Plan Matching' variables on the Mature Women main data file to locate the correct pension plan.

Table MW2. Key Questions: 1989 Mature Women Pension Matching Project

Source of Pension Plan Question Numbers Reference
(1) the most important pension plan for which a respondent was eligible through her own employment Q79a
R09812.00 = 1 or
R09813.00 = 1 or 3
(2) the most important pension plan for which a spouse of a married or separated respondent was eligible through his own employment Q80a
R09846.00 = 1 or
R09847.00 = 1 or 3
(3) survivor's benefits or any other benefit from the employment or military service of a spouse or ex-spouse for which a respondent--of any marital status except "never married"--was eligible Q81c
R09880.00 = 1 or 3 or
R09886.00 ⊃3; 1

Of the 815 unique pension plans, 538 (66.0 percent) are defined benefit plans, 259 (31.8 percent) are defined contribution plans, and 18 (2.2 percent) are plans with combined characteristics. Users should note that coverage under multiple and different types of pension plans is possible. For example, a household may receive or be eligible to receive pension benefits from one defined benefit and three defined contribution plans. The source of the four plans could be solely from one household member's (e.g., the spouse's) employment, or from more than one member.

The SCF-based instruments recorded data on plan definitions, benefit formulas, and other provisions applicable to six different retirement conditions: early retirement, normal retirement, late retirement, employment termination prior to retirement, disability retirement, and death or survivor's benefits. Each record contains the identification, linkage, and plan characteristic variables listed below in Figure MW1.

Figure MW1. Identification, Linkage, and Plan-Specific Variables: Pension Plan Data (1989)

These titles refer to the terminology used in the pension-matching variables (Variables can be accessed in the ISR PENSION MATCH Area of Interest via NLS Investigator):

CODING ID#: the unique number assigned by ISR to each pension plan. Incorporated within the plan number is information on type of pension plan. Plans with ID#s below 3000 are defined benefit plans; those with ID#s from 3000-4999 are defined contribution plans; and those with ID#s 5000 and over are combination defined benefit and defined contribution plans.

SEQ#: the unique number identifying the pension plan/provider combination.

PPID#: the identification number of the pension provider. Identical numbers mean the same pension provider; however, different numbers do not necessarily mean different providers.

PLAN#: an identification number of the pension plan or plans reviewed. The 997/998/999 series indicates that multiple plans from the same provider were examined.

HHID#: the identification number of the individual(s) covered under the pension plan. Each individual in a household has been assigned a different HHID#. Up to 52 eligible individuals can be covered under a given pension plan.

OTHER SEQ HHID#: the SEQ# of another plan under which the same individual is covered.

INTEG SEQ HHID#: the SEQ# of the plan containing information on how benefits are integrated for this individual.

General Plan Provisions (for definitions of terms, see Appendix 24 in the Mature Women's Codebook Supplement)
Defined Benefit Plans:
Variable Definitions
Benefit Formulas
Eligibility Requirements
Special Features
Defined Contribution Plans:
Participant & Employer Contributions
Retirement Benefits
Early, Late, Mandatory Retirement Requirements
Disability, Death & Survivor Benefits Provisions
Payment Options
Classification and Miscellaneous Provisions

Data Files: The data on pension plan characteristics are available on a supplementary data set. This pension plan file contains a pension plan number and the detailed plan characteristic information listed above for each of the 815 plans coded by ISR. This data set can be obtained by contacting NLS User Services; the series of ISR Pension Plan Matching variables on the main data file can be used to locate the correct plan.

Survey Instruments & Documentation: Documentation for this separate pension plan file consists of the following ISR-produced materials:

  • Overview: a description of the Survey of Consumer Finances including a helpful list of acronyms and definitions of some of the more commonly used terms found within both the ISR and NLS coding documents
  • Coding Reference Manual: a document containing instructions to coders of the NLS Pension Coding Instruments
  • NLS Pension Coding Instruments: copies of the three coding instruments that were used to record, from each SPD, General Plan Provision items (Part I), Defined Benefit Pension Plan items (Part II), and Defined Contribution Pension Plan items (Part III) of the NLS pension plans
  • NLS Pension Provider Coding Sheets: a summary instrument which combined the characteristics of each plan with identification of each household eligible for that plan


Gustman, Alan L. and Steinmeier, Thomas L. "Retirement in a Family Context: A Structural Model for Husbands and Wives." NLS Discussion Paper 94-17. Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1994.