After a modest gain in 2005, membership in employer registered pension plans (RPPs) resumed normal growth in 2006 due entirely to increases among women, according to Statistics Canada.

The country’s 18,594 employer-sponsored RPPs added 77,700 new members, representing a growth of 1.4%. This took total membership to 5.8 million in 2006.

Membership rose by about 82,200 among women, but it fell by about 4,500 among men, for a net gain of 77,700. Increases for women were shared about evenly between the public and private sectors.

And for the first time, the proportion of women members with a defined benefit (DB) plan exceeded the share of men. In 2006, 83% of women had a DB plan, compared with 77% for men.

“This can be explained by the fact that most members in the public sector have a defined benefit plan and the proportion of women working in the public sector is higher than men,” says StatsCan.

Of the 5.8 million total membership, women accounted for 2.8 million (48.5%) while men accounted for three million (51.5%). In 2000, women accounted for 45.1% while men accounted for 54.9%.

For a second year, membership of DB plans declined slightly. However, these plans remain the main type of plan, with nearly 80% of all memberships.

Gains in membership came mainly from combination plans, which added a little more than 88,000 members in 2006. Defined contribution plans also contributed to the growth, with an increase of 6,100 members.

“The underfunding of defined benefit pension plans since the beginning of 2000 may be an important factor explaining the increase in combination plans,” explains StatsCan. “To reduce their future financial obligation, a number of employers have added a defined contribution component to their existing defined benefit plans.”

The proportion of plans underfunded during the period dropped to 45% in 2006 from 57% in the previous year. The market value of assets (for both active members and retirees) in employer pension plans amounted to nearly $1.1 trillion in 2006.

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