Contribution Analysis: U.S. Single Employer Pension Plan

The SOA is pleased to make available a longitudinal study of single employer pension plan contributions in the U.S. The analysis measures whether pension plan contributions paid down unfunded liabilities or met other benchmarks, such as regulatory requirements.

Highlights from the most recent update:

  • In 2016, 27% of plan liabilities were in plans that had an unfunded liability when computed with the smoothed discount rates allowed under federal law. 1 This percentage is up from 11% in 2015.
  • Of the 27% of plan liabilities associated with plans that had an unfunded liability in 2016, 16% is attributable to plans that contributed enough to reduce their unfunded liabilities, while 11% fell short.
  • Only 21% of plan liabilities were associated with plans that had a 2016 Minimum Required Contribution (MRC) under federal law. Of the 21%, more than 20% was attributable to plans that contributed at least as much as the MRC, and less than 1% was associated with plans that contributed less than the MRC. Even though a plan may have an unfunded liability, it may have no MRC because of carryover and prefunding balances—mechanisms for recognizing that past contributions were greater than required.
  • Using unsmoothed discount rates, 78% of liabilities in 2016 were associated with plans with an unfunded liability. 2 Of the 78%, 32% was associated with plans whose contributions reduced their unfunded liabilities, while 46% was attributable to plans that fell short of preventing their unfunded liability from growing.


April 2019 Update

April 2019 Update Fast Facts

January 2018 Update

May 2017 Update

June 2016 Study

Thank You

The authors thank the following volunteers for their thoughtful arm’s-length review of this study prior to publication. Any opinions expressed may not reflect their opinions or those of their employers. Any errors belong to the authors alone.

Daniel S. Atkinson, FSA, EA

Jason D. Melbye, FSA, EA

Thomas P. Clemens, FSA, EA

Questions or Comments?

If you have comments or questions, please email

1Internal Revenue Code §430 and accompanying regulations define funding rules for single employer pension plans, including the interest rates used to discount liabilities.

2For this study, unsmoothed corporate bond rates refer to monthly average spot rates published by Internal Revenue Service as the Treasury High Quality Market Corporate Bond Yield Curve. As monthly averages, these rates are slightly smoothed, but they are essentially unsmoothed relative to the 25-year averaging allowed under current law. In the current economic environment, smoothed rates are higher than unsmoothed rates.