The gender gap in participation at employer-sponsored retirement plans has narrowed considerably over the past 16 years.[@@]

Craig Copeland, a researcher at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington, reports that 50% of males and 47% of females aged 21 to 64 participated in an employment-based retirement plan in 2003, compared with 54% of the males and about 49% of the females studied in 2000.

The participation gap is much narrower than in 1987, the first year covered by the study, when 51% of males and fewer than 41% of the females participated in employment-based plans.

Copeland also found that a 2-year decline in the percentage of workers participating in an employer retirement plan appears to have ended: 42% of all workers were in employment-based plans in 2003, slightly more than the percentage taking part in such plans in the previous 2 years.

The participation level for full-time, full-year workers ages 21 to 64 hit 57% last year, just above levels found in 2002.

Participation by workers at small firms increased from 1987 to 2003, from about 28% to 39% among firms employing 25 to 99 employees.

At firms employing 100 to 500 workers, the retirement plan participation level rose to 49%, from 43%.

At employers with 500 to 999 employees, “the level was virtually unchanged from its 1987 level despite increases in the intervening years,” Copeland writes in his report on the research results.

EBRI concludes that almost 64 million workers participated in some sort of employer retirement plan, either defined benefit or defined contribution in 2003. However, this was below the previous peak of 67 million recorded in 2000.