100 Years of Employee Benefits Timeline – a Timeline of Key Moments

Since TIAA’s founding in 1918, policymakers have passed landmark national legislation to promote retirement security. These moments were responses to market and cultural influences and the changing dynamics in the world, in our country and in society. From expanded access to social security, to plan innovation, we’ve made great progress, but we need to do more. Today, 55 million Americans lack access to a retirement plan at work...and 40% of households are risk of running short of savings in retirement. It’s time for urgent action. Every American worker deserves guaranteed lifetime income. And we’re fighting for it. Join us.

This timeline provides a brief history of workplace retirement benefits to inform our collective understanding of the needs of employers, plan sponsors, and participants. Highlights include key points in time in public policy, employer benefits, Social Security, and TIAA.

Key highlights:

Employment based plans + public policy

  • Private employers and public regulations have created a complex, overlapping system of benefits over the last 100 years.
  • The generosity, coverage, and tax treatment of benefits has increased, but at the cost of growing complexity and a large administrative burden.
  • The accelerated pace of change in the last few decades has made options increasingly complex.

Social Security

  • Social Security grew from a retirement program designed primarily for manufacturing employees to a nearly universal lifetime benefit that also covers widows, survivors, and those with qualifying disabling conditions.
  • While it provides a substantial amount of retirement income, it is also approaching a financing crisis decades in the making.


  • TIAA has been at the forefront of providing retirement income solutions to participants.
  • The company has quickly responded to changing regulatory and competitive environments, such as the introduction of mutual fund options or the development of RetirePlus.
  • Although expectations and law regarding workplace benefits have shifted dramatically, TIAA has continued to innovate.