More than 125,000 Canadians became active members in a registered pension plan in 2019, according to a new report by Statistics Canada.

It found the number of active members was up two per cent from 2018 to just over 6.5 million. Women accounted for more than three-quarters of the increase in new memberships — up 97,500 from 2018 to 3.3 million — while about 28,000 more men joined a pension plan in 2019, bringing their total to nearly 3.2 million. Women’s share of active membership surpassed men’s in 2016 and increased to 51.1 per cent in 2019, with two-thirds of women belonging to a pension employed in the public sector, compared to 20 per cent of men.

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Meanwhile, more than 4.3 million Canadians were covered by a defined benefit pension plan in 2019, up 1.4 per cent from 2018 and accounting for two-thirds of pension plan members in 2019.

Membership in defined contribution plans rose 2.4 per cent in 2019 to more than 1.2 million, accounting for 18.7 per cent of all pension plan membership. Membership in other plan types — such as hybrid, composite and combination plans — grew by more than 37,000 members for a total of 963,000 employees, equivalent to 14.7 per cent of total plan membership.

Membership in public sector pension plans increased by nearly 87,000 in 2019 to 3.5 million, while membership in private sector plans grew by 38,600 to 3.1 million. Although membership in private sector DB plans decreased by 19,000, this was more than offset by increased membership in private sector DC plans (up 24,800) and other types of pension plans (up 32,800), according to the report.

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The 2019 pension coverage rate was 37.1 per cent and, while essentially unchanged from 2018 (37.2 per cent), this rate has continued on a downward trend, compared to 2009 (39.4 per cent), 1999 (40.8 per cent) and 1977 (46.1 per cent).

Total employer and employee contributions in registered pension plans reached $71.1 billion in 2019, up nearly $760 million from 2018, while employer contributions for unfunded liabilities fell to $6.9 billion, their lowest level in a decade.

Excluding payments for unfunded liabilities, employers contributed $37.6 billion — 59 per cent of all contributions — while employees accounted for the remaining 41 per cent, or $26.5 billion. Private sector employers contributed $14.3 billion in 2019, representing 71 per cent of total private sector employee and employer contributions. Public sector employers contributed $23.3 billion, or 53 per cent, of total public sector employee and employer contributions.

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The market value of assets in registered pension plans increased by more than $188 billion in 2019 to surpass $2.1 trillion. The 32 largest plans, each with 30,000 or more members, held 58 per cent of the total assets while accounting for 51 per cent of total memberships.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, the value of these assets increased to $2.2 trillion, according to a separate StatsCan report.