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Employee Benefits Survey
EBS EBS Program Links

Technical Note

Most estimates of detailed benefit provisions are expressed in terms of the percentage of workers participating in a particular benefit plan or the percentage covered by a specific provision. Some estimates, however, are in units other than percentages of workers, such as the median age requirement for early retirement in a traditional defined benefit retirement plan.

All estimates shown in the table are based on the set of workers specified underneath the table title and in any subsets indicated by column headers. For example, if it is stated that "All workers participating in defined contribution plans = 100 percent," then “100 percent” is the full set of workers referred to in the distribution. Standard error tables provide measures of reliability for the corresponding estimate table. Estimates in the non-shaded columns generally indicate percentages of workers. Estimates in shaded columns provide summary statistics, such as percentile, mean, or median values. When tables only contain percentile distribution estimates the columns are not shaded.

Some estimates are classified as "not determinable"; such occurrences have various causes. The Summary Plan Description (SPD) is used as a primary source of information on the provisions of retirement plans. For detailed provisions of employer-sponsored retirement plans, the "not determinable" classification is used when no information on a particular plan feature is available from the SPD.

Estimates by worker average wage are grouped into six wage categories: the lowest 10 percent, the lowest 25 percent, the second 25 percent, the third 25 percent, the highest 25 percent, and the highest 10 percent. The categories use percentile values based on unpublished March 2019 wages and salaries from the Employer Costs for Employee Compensation.

Percentiles are computed using average hourly earnings from sampled occupations within an establishment. Establishments in the survey are asked to report only individual worker earnings and scheduled hours of work for each sampled job. For the calculation of the percentile values, the individual worker hourly wages are weighted and arrayed from lowest to highest. The values corresponding to the percentiles are:

Characteristics Average hourly wage percentiles
10 25 50 (median) 75 90

Private industry workers


The lowest 10- and 25-percent wage categories include those occupations with an average hourly wage less than the 10th percentile value and 25th percentile value, respectively. The second 25-percent category includes those occupations that make at or above the 25th percentile value but less than the 50th percentile value. The third 25-percent category includes those occupations that make at or above the 50th percentile value but less than the 75th percentile value. Finally, the highest 25- and 10-percent wage categories include those occupations with an average hourly wage greater than or equal to the 75th percentile value and 90th percentile value, respectively.

Note: Individual workers can fall into a wage category different from the average for the occupation into which they are classified because average hourly wages for the occupation are used to produce the benefit estimates.

Sample size

See appendix table 1. (PDF)

Survey scope

See appendix table 2. (PDF)

Excluded from the survey are workers employed in federal and quasi-federal agencies, military personnel, agricultural workers, volunteers, unpaid workers, individuals receiving long-term disability compensation, and those working overseas. In addition, private industry excludes workers in private households, the self-employed, workers who set their own pay (e.g., proprietors, owners, major stockholders, and partners in unincorporated firms), and family members paid token wages.

Survey methods

For technical information on survey methods, see "National Compensation Measures," in the BLS Handbook of Methods. The concepts section of the Handbook provides definitions for worker and establishment characteristics, including geographic areas.

Additional information

For BLS research articles on employee benefits, see the Monthly Labor Review, Beyond the Numbers: Pay and Benefits, The Economics Daily, as well as the NCS publications page.


Last Modified Date: April 16, 2020