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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. The survey is carried out on an annual basis in the third quarter of the year. In previous years, data was collected only for persons in employment (ILO labour force classification) aged 20 to 69 years. In 2021, the data collection was expanded to also include persons who were not in current employment but had previous employments.

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 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
  • Length of time in occupational and/or personal pension scheme or PRSA
  • For persons in employment who do not have supplementary pension coverage, their main reason for this and their expected source of income on retirement

The Pensions Survey is carried out on an annual basis, 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.

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. Prior to this, supplementary pension coverage covered only occupational pensions from one's current employment and personal pensions in current contribution.

Survey Design

The Pensions Survey was carried out as part of the LFS survey.  The LFS is conducted over five successive quarters or waves. Households are randomly selected for inclusion in the LFS sample and are included in the sample for five consecutive quarters. As a household rotates out of the sample it is replaced by a household from the same, or a similar, area in the subsequent quarter and one fifth of the sample is participating in its first interview each quarter. The remaining sample households are distributed evenly across their second to fifth interviews each quarter. In Quarter 3 2021, the Pensions Survey was carried out in waves 1,2,4 and 5 of the LFS survey.

Effect of COVID-19 on data collection

The Pensions Survey is carried out as part of the LFS survey in Quarter 3 of each year.

The LFS data collection model generally uses a mixed mode data collection - Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) and Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI), where the the first interview is face-to-face (CAPI) and the majority of follow up interviews are conducted over the telephone (CATI). 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 in Quarter 3 2021.

Response rates for the Pensions Survey were impacted by the change of mode to 100% telephone interviews. The Social Data Collection team in the CSO are actively engaging in mitigating against the impact of COVID-19 on response rates.

Also, in the pre COVID-19 data collection model, where the first interview was conducted by a team of face-to-face interviewers using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI), and the four follow-up interviews were conducted using CATI from a dedicated call centre, householders could opt for these follow up interviews to be carried out face to face instead. Examples include persons who did not want to do a telephone interview due to age, language difficulties, aural difficulties, etc. or were they just preferred a CAPI follow-up interview in waves 2 to 5. The Pension survey was asked of waves 1,2,4 and 5 in Quarter 3. For the Pensions Survey in 2021, such persons did not have the option of a face-to-face interview, and so had to conduct the interview over the telephone.

In addition, the concepts covered in the Pensions Survey are quite complex, and much care and attention was given to simplifying the questionnaire in so far as possible, in conjunction with the Questionnaire Design Unit in the CSO. Notwithstanding this, there remains a level of complexity to the questions involved. For persons with language difficulties, aural difficulties, etc. answering these questions over the telephone, adds another level of complexity, which impacts on overall survey response and item response.

Also, the questions on supplementary pension coverage are asked at the end of the LFS questionnaire, so respondent fatigue is a factor, especially for persons with such difficulties outlined above.

Reference Period

The Pensions survey was carried out in the three months from July to September (Quarter 3) in 2021. 

Survey Coverage

The questionnaire asked questions about supplementary pension coverage provisions of persons aged 20 to 69 years, who were in current employment, or not in current employment but did have previous employments, including persons who may have been laid off or temporarily laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 2021, 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 2021, the Pensions Survey was asked of respondents in waves 1,2,4 and 5 of the LFS.

The number of valid responding households for the LFS in Q3 2021 was 11,409. In Quarter 3 2021, the Pensions Survey was expandend to include not only persons in current employment (ILO labour force classification), but also persons who were not in current employment (ILO) but did have previous employments. This includes persons who may have been laid off or temporarily laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey is asked of one person per household. The change to CATO dat collection mode detailed above did ipact response rates. The achieved sample size for the Quarter 3 2021 survey was 4,975 compared with 5,130 respondents in 2020 and 7,574 in 2019. See Table 7.1 for a detailed breakdown of the achieved sample:

Table 7.1 Unweighted sample of persons in employment (ILO) aged 20 to 69 years, Q3 2019 to Q3 2021

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 Quarter 3. The CALMAR2-macro, developed by INSEE, was used for this purpose.

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. The survey was carried out using CATI mode only in 2021, as in 2020.

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.  In 2021, the survey was asked of waves 1, 2, 4 and 5 only, using CATI data collection, as all interviews had to be 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 modal analysis of the 2019-2021 Pensions Survey data, pension rates are higher if the 2019 survey results are based on CATI returns, rather than mixed CAPI/CATI data collection model (2019 data collection model) or CAPI only data collection.

The data collection mode impacted also on response rates. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic did impact on response to the survey. The overall achieved sample was 7,054 respondents, including persons aged 20 to 69 years in current employment, and also those not currently in employment (ILO), but who had previous employments. The data collection in 2021 was expanded to include this latter group. Comparing the achieved sample size with previous years, there were 4,975 respondents aged 20 to 69 years in current employment, compared with 5,130 in 2020, and 7,574 in 2019.

Compositional effect on survey results

While the data collection for this survey was expanded in 2021 to cover persons in current employment and also persons not presently in employment but who had previous employments, including those who may or may not have been laid off due to COVID, this publication focusses primarily on persons in employment (ILO). As for CSO Earnings and Labour Costs publications during the pandemic, it is likely there are compositional effects in the data between 2019, 2020 and 2021 – the composition of the workforce changing in 2020/2021 due to COVID-19. This may have impacted on calculated pension rates.

As detailed in the CSO Earnings and Labour Costs Q3 2021 (provisional results) published on 1st December 2021, 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 2021.  The Earnings and Labour Costs final results for Q3 2021 will be published on 1st March 2022.

Due to the unprecedented emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Government measures were put in place in response to COVID-19, which resulted in the sudden closures of non-essential businesses at the end of Q1 2020. These restrictions have been lifted and re-imposed at various stages throughout 2020 and 2021 and have affected the ability of some enterprises to respond during the Q3 2021 EHECS data collection period. Government measures put in place in response to COVID-19 related to some or all weeks of Q3 2021 for some sectors of the economy, where some of the Government restrictions continued into Q3 2021.

As detailed in this quarterly release and its accompanying technical note, the composition of the labour market in Q3 2021 and Q3 2020 was very different to the composition of the labour market in previous years. There were fewer employments in certain sectors in Q3 2021 and a significant number of employments being supported by TWSS and EWSS in Q3 2021. Across and within economic sectors the impact of the COVID-19 crisis was experienced differently, creating a compositional effect in the survey results.

CSO undertook an analysis of administrative data for Q3 2021 from the Revenue Commissioners. The CSO presented some high-level results of that analysis in the ninth series of the Labour Market Insight Bulletin, which was published alongside the Earnings and Labour Costs Survey release on 1st December 2021. This bulletin included some sectoral analysis to quantify the quarterly percentage change in the volume of employment and earnings by sector from Q1 2020 through to Q3 2021 as well as the annual changes from Q3 2020 to Q3 2021 and an analysis of the earnings for employments that were active in more than one quarter.

In the same way, 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 Pensions Survey data between 2019 and 2020/2021.

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 provides for two types of pensions: State Pension (Contributory) and State Pension (Non-Contributory).

The State Pension Age is currently 66 years. Planned increases in the State Pension Age were repealed and it remains at 66 years pending Government consideration of the Pensions Commission’s recommendations.

The Government established the independent Commission on Pensions in November 2020 to examine the sustainability of the State Pension system and the Social Insurance Fund. The Commission completed its work and published its report in October 2021.The Government is examining the report with the intention of agreeing an implementation plan to reform the State Pension system. 

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

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.

Automatic Enrolment

The Programme for Government: Our Shared Future of June 2020 contains a commitment to introduce a pension automatic enrolment system. The objective is to address the low proportion of employees in Ireland with supplementary pension cover. Automatic Enrolment is expected to see a transition from the current voluntary supplementary pension system to one which will automatically enrol employees, subject to certain parameters, into a quality-assured retirement savings system, with some freedom to opt-out.

In July 2021, the Government published its Economic Recovery Plan.  This included a commitment to decide on the overall design of the Automatic Enrolment system in 2021 and stated that the necessary legislative, organisational and process structures would follow through over the course of 2022 and 2023.

These commitments are further to a Government Decision in 2019 that concluded several key elements of the design, influenced by the findings of a Strawman public consultation in 2018. The Strawman Proposal was designed to canvas opinions and generate discussion on the introduction into workplaces of an Automatic Enrolment retirement savings system to address the issue of low supplementary pension cover of employees.

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.

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 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. It should be noted that as per Eurostat’s operational implementation, the upper age limit for classifying a person as employed is 89 years.

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 and based on Eurostat’s operational implementation is limited to those aged 15-89 years.

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 Tables 2 and 3 of this release. 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.

Occupation Classification

The CSO was obliged to report occupational coding data to Eurostat based on the new classification ISCO-08 from Q1 2011 onwards, because of changes to the EU regulations on the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, which is implemented in Ireland using the LFS, (formerly the QNHS). The CSO changed to UKSOC2010 as the primary classification for occupations, from which ISCO-08 is then derived.

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, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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