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Families with workplace pension plans much wealthier: study

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Canadians who have workplace pension plans are significantly wealthier than those who do not, refuting suggestions that people without a pension plan will typically save and invest on their own to offset the difference.

A new study released Thursday by Statistics Canada shows family units with a workplace registered pension plan have average wealth – defined as all assets minus debt – of $536,000. That is one-third higher than families without pension plan assets, whose average wealth is $359,000, assuming the same socioeconomic conditions.

Statistics Canada adjusted the figures to account for the fact that people with pension plans typically have more education, higher incomes and longer workplace tenures on average, so unsurprisingly have more wealth. To more closely isolate the value of pension ownership, the agency estimated the average wealth of families assuming they have the same income characteristics.

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Without that adjustment, families without workplace pension plans had average wealth of just $191,000, which was 64 per cent less than families with pension plans.

The agency noted that some prior research has suggested people who do not have workplace pension contributions deducted from their paycheques use the extra funds to save on their own to create comparable retirement income.

Statscan's new report, however, suggest families without pension plans "are not fully compensating for their lack of [pension] coverage through increased savings in other assets."

The report suggests the locked-in nature of pension holdings may act "as a commitment savings device."

Surprisingly, the study shows families with workplace pension plans were also 8 per cent more likely to have private RRSP holdings even after adjusting for income differences.

The report says people with workplace pension plans maybe "differ intrinsically in terms of saving behaviour" or may have a different approach to investment because of the impact of having a workplace pension plan.

The study said it is conceivable workers with "a greater predisposition for saving" may be more likely to join companies that offer pension plans, or companies may be more likely to offer pension plans if they have workers who demand them.

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The study looks at financial survey data for family units – including single individuals – whose major income recipient is between the ages of 30 and 54 and is a paid worker with no significant business equity, so is not self-employed.

Families were considered to have workplace pension assets even if they came from prior employment that was not still continuing.

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