A higher percentage of all workers were offered, participated in, and were vested in a retirement plan in 2003 than they were in 1998, according to a recent study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) in Washington.

The study, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program participation data for 2003, also found that 63% of workers age 16 and older worked for an employer or union that sponsored a retirement plan in 2003, a slight jump from the 60% found when the Census Bureau performed a similar study in 1998.

The 2003 study also found that 48% of all workers 16 or older participated in a retirement plan, up from 44% in 1998. Forty-four percent of the workers also said they were entitled to a pension benefit or lump-sum distribution if they left their job, up from 41% in 1998.

The study also proved there is a definite shift away from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s. A defined contribution plan was the primary retirement plan for 57.7% of 2003 study participants, up from 51.5% in the 1998 study, and more than double the percentage found in 1988, EBRI found.

Meanwhile, another recent EBRI study reported that from 1992 to 2002 many Americans saw their total wealth jump significantly. The mean average of total wealth for those Americans reaching or just passing retirement age grew by 85% during the 10-year period, from $235,514 in 1992 to $435,072 in 2002. While more than half of the Americans in this age group saw their wealth jump by more than 50% during the 10-year period, more than 21.1% of retirement-age workers experienced a 25% decline in their wealth, and 15.3% of them lost more than 50%.