Some 45% of men and 49% of women below retirement age in Great Britain did not have any private pension savings in the period between 2010 and 2012, according to research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Its Characteristics of people and households without a private pension report also found that a third (33% men and 35% women) of the employed had no private pension.
ONS defines private pensions as non-state funded plans; these include occupational schemes for private sector and public sector employees, and personal pensions, which it defines as including group personal pensions and stakeholder pensions.
Among employees aged 16 to 24, 91% of men and 88% of women did not have any private pension savings.
In the pre-retirement group between aged 50 and state pension age 35% of men and 39% of women aged did not have private pensions provision.
The research also found that 95% of employees in the accommodation and food services industries did not have a pension organised by their employer.
In administration and support services, 85% of men and 87% of women were not paying into a pension. Other industries where more than 75% of men and women were not contributing to a private pension included arts, entertainment and recreation, and agriculture, forestry and fishing.
The industry with the lowest proportion of employees without a pension was the public administration, defence and social security sector with only 7% of men and 9% of women not paying into a private pension.
Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “While this analysis is based on pre- auto-enrolment data, we know from elsewhere that many millions of working-age adults are missing out on a pension as a result of gaps in the auto-enrolment programme.
“Auto-enrolment is providing part of the solution but we still need to do much more both to increase participation rates and to increase contributions from those who are now members of a pension.”
Malcolm McLean, senior consultant at Barnett Waddingham, added: “The figures released by the ONS paint a worrying picture of the state of unpreparedness for retirement of a significant proportion of the working-age population.
“The fact that 45% of men and 49% of women in the UK did not have any private pensions savings in 2010-12 is extremely alarming with the self-employed, those not in work and women at the bottom of the pile.
“The data is, of course, from the period 2010-2012, which is before the start of auto-enrolment and illustrates how important that particular government initiative is to secure an improvement in this situation.”