A new study says just over 8.9 million employed Canadian tax filers participated in a private retirement savings plan in 2008, about half of all tax filers.
Coming as the federal and provincial governments begin looking at ways to reform the country's troubled pension system, the Statistics Canada report says the proportion of private pension investors has dropped from 54 per cent in 1997.
The agency says there was also a decrease in the share of employed tax filers who contributed to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan during the decade.
In 1997, 41 per cent of employed tax filers participated in an RRSP; by 2008, the proportion had declined to 34 per cent.
At the same time, the share of employed tax filers participating in employer-sponsored pension plans remained stable at 32 per cent.
Just over 5.7 million employed tax filers participated in an employer-sponsored pension plan in 2008, with women slightly outnumbering men - and climbing.
For women, participation rates rose to 34 per cent in 2008 from 32 in 1997, while among men, they dropped to 31 per cent from 33.
Participation rates in private retirement savings plans were highest for workers between the prime working ages of 35 and 54, with about 63 per cent of these workers participating in such plans in 2008.
The report comes as economic woes and retiring baby boomers create new problems for Canada's pension systems.
This week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced plans to launch a series of public consultations on how best to reform the country's retirement income system.
The string of town-hall meetings, expert roundtables, policy conferences and public on-line consultations aim to sound out public opinion on the state of retirement income in time for a federal-provincial meeting in May, where finance ministers hope to narrow a wide range of options for reform.
Concern about retirement income has soared recently, in part because savings took a big hit with the downturn in financial markets last year, but also because fewer companies are offering defined-benefit plans.
Some provinces believe that unless they take action now, large portions of the population will not be able to maintain their standard of living when they retire. British Columbia and Alberta have threatened to set up their own voluntary pension supplement unless Ottawa leads the way and figures out a new national plan soon.
But other provinces, and some experts, are not as convinced that the problem is urgent. And some feel that individuals, and not the government, have the responsibility to save for their own retirement.