The New Owners: The Mass Emergence of Employee Ownership in Public Companies and What It Means to American Business  - CLEO Skip to main content


Employees, always considered important stakeholders in American corporations, are today emerging as a key shareholder group. Although data tracking employee share ownership over time are spotty, an abundance of individual studies and anecdotal evidence suggests that it has been expanding steadily in the past two decades.

According to surveys, about 20 percent of U.S. adults now report owning stock in the company for which they work. And the most recent Labor Department data show that employee retirement plans, including employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) and defined-contribution pension plans, such as 401(k)s, held nearly $314 billion in employer stock at the end of 1994–about 5.3 percent of the estimated $5.9 trillion in corporate equity outstanding that year.