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Background Notes

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Purpose of Survey

The purpose of the annual Pensions Survey is to provide reliable annual estimates of pension coverage in the State. Data is published for persons in employment aged 20 to 69 years.

The survey does not measure pensions provided through the State Social Welfare Scheme and instead relates to occupational and personal pension cover (supplementary pension coverage) only.

The survey results presented in this publication cover persons in employment only. Persons who may have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic are not covered in the survey results.

The survey meets national demands for annual estimates of overall supplementary pension coverage and pension types. It produces figures on supplementary pension coverage broken down by sex, age group, nationality, ILO employment status, hours of work (full time/part time), NACE economic sector and broad occupational group. It also provides information on the following:

  • Occupational pension type - defined benefit, defined contribution or hybrid
  • Personal pensions – in current contribution, or where payments have been deferred or are in current draw-down mode.
  • For persons in employment who do not have supplementary pension coverage, their reasons for this and their expected source of income on retirement.

The Pensions Survey is carried out on an annual basis in the third quarter of the year, using the Labour Force Survey (LFS) survey instrument. The first iteration of this annual data collection on pension coverage in the State commenced in Quarter 3 2018.

It should be noted that, in previous Pensions Surveys carried out as a module of the QNHS (Quarter 4 2015 and prior to this), supplementary pension coverage covered only occupational pensions from one's current employment and personal pensions in current contribution. With the introduction of the annual Pensions Survey in 2018, the survey was expanded to include occupational pension coverage from previous employments (also for self-employed persons) and personal pensions where payments have been deferred or are in current draw-down mode.

Survey Design

The Pensions Survey was carried out as part of the LFS survey, which used mixed mode data collection - Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) and Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI). The LFS is conducted over five successive quarters or waves. However, in the LFS data collection model, the first interview is conducted by a team of face-to-face interviewers using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI). The four follow-up interviews are conducted using CATI from a dedicated call centre, where householders have agreed to conduct a telephone interview, or are conducted using face-to-face interviews where householders have not agreed to conduct a telephone interview, with some exceptions, for example, persons who do not want to do a telephone interview due to age, language difficulties, aural difficulties, etc. or would just a prefer CAPI follow-up interview in waves 2 to 5. The Pension survey was asked of waves 2 to 5 in Quarter 3.

Users should note that the CSO had to suspend direct face-to-face interviews for the LFS (and other household surveys) due to the social distancing measures introduced in Ireland because of COVID-19. Consequently, all interviews for the Pensions survey were carried out by telephone.

The questions on supplementary pension coverage are asked at the end of the LFS questionnaire.

Reference Period

The Pensions survey was carried out in the three months from July to September (Quarter 3) in 2020. The questionnaire asked questions about supplementary pension coverage provisions of persons in employment aged 20 to 69 years.

Survey Coverage

The Pensions survey data was collected directly from private households. Institutional households, (e.g. nursing homes, barracks, boarding schools, hotels etc.) were not covered by the survey. A household was defined as a single person or group of people who usually reside together in the same accommodation and who share the same catering arrangements. The household members were not necessarily related by blood or marriage.

A person is defined as a "Usual Resident" of a private household if he or she:

(i) Lives regularly at the dwelling in question, and

(ii) Shares the main living accommodation (i.e. kitchen, living room or bathroom) with the other members of the household.

One person from each household selected was randomly chosen to participate in the Pensions Survey. Information was collected directly from respondents and proxy responses from other members of the household were not accepted. 

Sample Design

In 2020, the Pensions Survey was carried out using the LFS survey instrument. Full details of the LFS survey design are available in the Methodology of the LFS

In the LFS, households are asked to take part in the survey for 5 consecutive quarters (5 waves). In Quarter 3 2020, the Pensions Survey was asked of respondents in waves 2 to 5 of the LFS.

The number of valid responding households for the LFS in Q3 2020 was 12,358. The module on Pensions was asked only of persons in employment and of one person per household. The achieved sample in Quarter 3 2020 was 5,130 individuals. See Table 7.1 for a detailed breakdown of the achieved sample for the module on pensions:

Table 7.1 Unweighted sample of persons in employment (ILO) aged 20 to 69 years Q3 2019 and Q3 2020

Derivation of Results

The survey results were weighted to agree with population estimates broken down by age group, sex and region and were also calibrated to nationality totals. The design weights are computed as the inverse of the selection probability of the unit. The purpose of design weights is to eliminate the bias induced by unequal selection probabilities.

These design weights were then adjusted for non-response. This eliminated the bias introduced by discrepancies caused by non-response, particularly critical when the non-responding households are different from the responding ones in respect to some survey variables as this may create substantial bias in the estimates. Design weights are adjusted for non-response by dividing the design weights of each responding unit in the final/achieved sample by the (weighted) response probability of the corresponding group or strata.

To obtain the final weights for the results, after the previous steps were carried out, the distribution of households by deprivation, NUTS3 region, sex and age was calibrated to the population of households in Quarters 1 and 2. The CALMAR2-macro, developed by INSEE, was used for this purpose.

Users should note that the mode of data collection for this survey in 2020 has changed since it was last carried out in Q3 2019 and there seems to be modal effects in the data. A mixed mode data collection model was used in 2019 – both CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal (face to face) Interviewing) and CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) were used. In 2020, the CSO had to suspend direct face-to-face interviews due to the social distancing measures introduced in Ireland because of COVID-19. Consequently, all interviews for this survey were carried out by telephone.

Mode effect on survey results

Users should note that there does seem to be modal effects in the data.  A change in the survey delivery mode can introduce a mode effect on the results whereby the method of administration of the questionnaire can impact responses.

When the Pensions Survey was carried out as part of the LFS survey instrument in 2019, the survey was asked of all waves 1 to 5 and was carried out using mixed mode data collection – CAPI for wave 1 interviews and CATI mode for waves 2 to 5.  However, in 2020, the survey was asked of waves 2 to 5 only.  which are largely carried out using CATI data collection, with the exception where householders have not agreed to conduct a telephone interview, for example, persons who do not want to do a telephone interview due to age, language difficulties, aural difficulties, etc. or would just prefer face to face interview.  However, in 2020, all interviews were carried out by telephone as the CSO had to suspend direct face-to-face interviews due to the social distancing measures introduced in Ireland because of COVID-19.

Based on mode analysis of the 2019 Pensions Survey data, compared with the 2020 survey results, pension rates are higher if the 2019 survey results are based on CATI returns waves 2 to 5 (as was the scenario in 2020), rather than mixed CAPI/CATI all waves data collection model (2019 data collection model) or CAPI only data collection.

The data collection mode and number of waves included in the survey data collection impacted on response rates. The achieved response rates in the LFS are highest for wave 1 interviews, with attrition in achieved response from wave to wave. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic did impact on response to the survey. The achieved sample size for the Q3 2020 survey was 5,130 respondents compared with 7,574 in 2019.

Compositional effect on survey results

The Pensions Survey covers persons in employment only so persons who may have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic are not covered in the survey results.  As for CSO Earnings and Labour Costs publications during the pandemic, it is likely there are compositional effects in the data between 2019 and 2020 – the composition of the workforce changing in 2020 due to COVID-19. This may have impacted on calculated pension rates.

As detailed in the CSO Earnings and Labour Costs Q3 2020 (provisional results) published on 25th November 2020, there is a compositional effect due to the significant changes in employment in certain sectors. This statistical release is available here.

The CSO published a technical note for users on the implications of the COVID-19 crisis on the Earnings and Labour Costs release, to accompany this release and is available here Technical Note – Impact of COVID-19 on the Earnings and Labour Costs release - updated Quarter 3 2020.  The Earnings and Labour Costs final results for Q3 2020 will be published on 2nd March 2021.

Government measures put in place in response to COVID-19 related to some or all weeks of Q3 2020 for some sectors of the economy, where some of the Government restrictions continued into Q3 2020.

As detailed in this quarterly release and its accompanying technical note, the composition of the labour market in Q3 2020 was very different to the composition of the labour market in previous quarters including Q3 2019, against which the annual changes are measured. There were significantly fewer employments in certain sectors in Q3 2020 and a significant number of employments being supported by TWSS and EWSS in Q3 2020. Across and within economic sectors the impact of the COVID-19 crisis was experienced differently, creating a compositional effect in the survey results.

In the same way, since the Pensions Survey only covers persons in employment, the impact of COVID-19 on certain sectors and the composition of the labour market within these sectors have likely caused composition effects on the data between 2019 and 2020.

Usual Residence and De Facto Population Concepts

Up to and including Q1 2006 the annual population estimates were calculated using the defacto definition of population (i.e. all persons present in the state). Since Q2 2006 a new concept of usual residence has been used, i.e. all persons usually resident and present in the state plus absent persons who are usually resident in Ireland but are temporarily away from home and outside the state.

Statistical Significance

All estimates based on sample surveys are subject to error, some of which is measurable. Where an estimate is statistically significantly different from another estimate it means that we can be 95% confident that differences between those two estimates are not due to sampling error.

Reliability of Estimates Presented

Estimates for number of persons, where there are less than 30 persons in a cell, are too small to be considered reliable. These estimates are presented with an asterisk (*) in the relevant tables.

Where there are 30-49 persons in a cell, estimates are considered to have a wider margin of error and should be treated with caution. These cells are presented with parentheses [ ] .

Note on Tables

The sum of row or column percentages in the tables in this report may not add to 100.0% due to rounding. Percentage breakdowns exclude cases where the interviewee did not respond.

Pension Coverage 

Through the State Social Welfare system, most people are entitled to a basic flat rate pension. See the note on 'State Pensions' below. However, in many cases, there is a need for additional pension cover if the standard of living enjoyed while at work is to be maintained into retirement.  This additional or supplementary coverage is provided through occupational pension schemes and/or personal pension arrangements.  It is this additional cover which is the focus of this survey. The survey results presented in this statistical release do not cover pensions paid through the State Social Welfare system.

State Pensions

The State currently provides two types of retirement pension: State Pension (Contributory) and State Pension (Non-Contributory).

The State pension age is currently 66 years, but this is changing in the coming years. The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 made a number of changes to the qualifying age for State pensions. The qualifying age will rise to 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028.

If you were born on or after 1 January 1955, the minimum qualifying State pension age will be 67.

If you were born on or after 1 January 1961 the minimum qualifying State pension age will be 68.

The State Pension (Contributory) is payable at age 66 (age 67 from 2021, age 68 from 2028) to people who have enough Irish social insurance contributions and is not means-tested.

The State Pension (Non-Contributory) previously known as the Old Age (Non-Contributory) Pension is payable at age 66 (age 67 from 2021, age 68 from 2028). The means-tested State Pension (Non-Contributory) is a payment for people aged 66 and over who do not qualify for a State Pension (Contributory) or who only qualify for a reduced contributory pension based on their PRSI contribution record.

Occupational Pension Scheme

Occupational pension schemes, also known as company pension plans, refer to employer-sponsored occupational pension schemes or relevant public sector scheme. Company pension plans of this nature are generally funded by both the employer and the employee through contributions based on a percentage of an employee’s gross salary.

An occupational pension scheme will be either a Defined Benefit or a Defined Contribution scheme.

In a Defined Benefit scheme, the pension paid on retirement is related to the number of years of employed service and on the employee’s earnings at retirement or in the years immediately preceding retirement or on career earnings (as in the case of Career-average Defined Benefit schemes). Career-average Defined Benefit schemes are a variation of the traditional Defined Benefit design. The level of pension at retirement is based, not on the earnings close to retirement, but rather on the average earnings throughout the member's entire career.

In a Defined Contribution scheme, pension contributions by the employee and employer are put into a fund, the value of which changes over time. The pension payable is based on the value of contributions in the fund at retirement age.

The corresponding question asked on the Pensions survey questionnaire was as follows:

Is your pension more like Type A or Type B?

Type A: A Defined Contribution pension, where pension contributions by you and your employer are put into a fund, the value of which changes over time. Your pension will depend on the size of this fund when you retire.

Type B: A Defined Benefit pension, where your pension depends on the number of years' service and your earnings at retirement or in the years immediately preceding retirement. Also included are Career-average Defined Benefit Pensions.

Personal Pension Scheme

There are two forms of personal pension plans, a Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA) and a Retirement Annuity Contract (RAC).

Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA):

A Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA) is a personal pension plan available to both self-employed and employed individuals who may or may not have an occupational scheme and is taken out with an authorised PRSA provider. PRSAs are a type of Defined Contribution scheme. PRSAs are available regardless of one's job or employment status.

On retirement, a PRSA provides retirement benefits based on the amount of contributions paid and the investment returns earned on those contributions. It is normally paid for by one's personal contributions, although employers can pay contributions also.

If an employer does not provide access to an occupational pension scheme or if certain restrictions apply to accessing the scheme, they must ensure that employees at least have access to a standard PRSA.

Retirement Annuity Contract (RAC):

A Retirement Annuity Contract (RAC) is a particular type of insurance contract obtained directly from life assurance companies and through financial advisers. They are approved by Revenue to allow tax relief on contributions made by an individual. An RAC provides a tax-free lump sum, within certain limits, and a pension or other benefits at retirement. The value of the ultimate benefits payable from the contract depends on the amount of contributions paid and the investment return achieved.

National Pensions Policy Initiative (NPPI)

The National Pensions Policy Initiative was launched in October 1996 to facilitate debate on how to achieve a fully developed national pension system and to formulate a strategy and make recommendations for actions needed to achieve this system. One of the targets of this Initiative was that supplementary pension coverage would be needed for 70% of the working population aged 30 years and over by the year 2013.

Pensions Authority

The Pensions Authority (formerly known as the Pensions Board) provides for the proper administration of pension schemes and the protection of pension rights for people living in Ireland. The Authority is the regulatory body for occupational pension schemes and Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) and also has a role in the development of pension policy in general. Under the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013, the Pensions Board was renamed the Pensions Authority and its Chief Executive became the Pensions Regulator. These changes took effect from 7 March 2014.

National Pensions Framework

The National Pensions Framework, which sets out the Government’s plans for reform of the Irish pension system, was published in March 2010. It encompasses all aspects of pensions, from social welfare to private occupational pensions and public sector pension reform. It follows the earlier ‘Green Paper on Pensions', published in October 2007. Development of the Framework was informed by the range of views raised during the ‘Green Paper’ consultation process. The ‘Green Paper’ set out the position in relation to social welfare, occupational, personal and public service pensions. The National Pensions Framework and the ‘Green Paper on Pensions’ are available at:

Classifications Used

ILO Labour Force Classification

The primary classification used for the LFS results is the ILO (International Labour Office) labour force classification. Labour Force Survey data on this basis have been published since 1988. The ILO classification distinguishes the following main subgroups of the population aged 15 years or over:

In Employment:  Persons who worked in the week before the survey for one hour or more for payment or profit, including work on the family farm or business and all persons who had a job but were not at work because of illness, holidays etc. in the week.

Unemployed:  Persons who, in the week before the survey, were without work and available for work within the next two weeks and had taken specific steps in the preceding four weeks to find work. It should be noted that, as per Eurostat’s operational implementation, the upper age limit for classifying a person as unemployed is 74 years.

Inactive Population (not in labour force):  All other persons.

The labour force comprises persons employed plus unemployed.

NACE Industrial Classification

The LFS sectoral employment figures are based on the EU NACE Rev. 2 (Nomenclature généraledes activités économiques dans les Communauté Européenne) classification as defined in Council Regulation (EC) No. 1893/2006. Fourteen NACE sub-categories are distinguished in a number of tables in this publication. From Q1 2009, NACE Rev. 2 has been adopted as the primary classification of industrial sectors for use in QNHS/LFS outputs. The NACE Rev. 1.1 classification had been in use from Q4 1997 to Q4 2008.

To facilitate analysis and the running of seasonal adjustment on the time series, NACE Rev. 2 estimates have been produced from Q1 1998 onwards. As of Q2 2009 only NACE Rev. 2 estimates have been published.

Occupation Classification

As a result of changes to the European regulations governing the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (implemented in Ireland using the LFS, formerly the QNHS) the CSO has been obliged to report occupational coding data to Eurostat based on the new Europe-wide classification ISCO-08 from Q1 2011 onwards. To allow this requirement to be met the CSO changed to using UK SOC2010 as the primary classification used in collecting the data. ISCO-08 is then derived from UK SOC2010.

The previously used classification for publication purposes in Ireland was UK SOC1990 and this cannot be directly compared to the new UK SOC2010 classification as all occupations have been reclassified accordingly. One particular example which highlighted this change was the reclassifying of farmers from the major occupation grouping of ‘Managers and administrators’ in SOC1990 to the major occupation grouping of ‘Skilled trades’ in SOC2010.

Results for occupations coded to the new SOC2010 classification have now been recoded for historical quarters back to Q1 2007 to provide a longer and consistent time series for users.

Further information regarding SOC 2010 is available here


The Central Statistics Office wishes to thank the participating households for their co-operation in agreeing to take part in the survey and for facilitating the collection of the relevant data.

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