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U.S. S&E Workforce: Trends and Composition

Why is this important?

A growing S&E workforce is conducive to increased capacity for innovation. As economies become more knowledge-intensive, S&E skills will be needed by those in jobs not traditionally considered part of the S&E workforce, such as managers, sales representatives, and financial analysts.

Key observations:

Average annual growth in S&E employment and in the total workforce: 1960–2007

SEI 2010: Growth of the S&E Workforce, Chapter 3.

Workforce growth

For nearly five decades, the U.S. S&E workforce (those in S&E jobs) has grown faster than the total civilian workforce. It reached about 5.5 million in 2007.

The increasing number of U.S. S&E degrees earned and rising, numbers of foreign-born scientists and engineers have contributed to this growth.

College freshmen intending S&E major, by field: 1990–2008


S&E education

For nearly two decades, about one-third of all U.S. college freshmen have indicated plans to pursue an S&E degree. Freshman intentions are a leading indicator of future degree distribution.

After about 2000, preferences for the social sciences psychology, and the biological sciences began rising, and preferences for computer sciences began a steep decline. Engineering dropped sharply after 2004 but rebounded in 2008.

S&E bachelor's degrees earned, by field 1989–2007

NOTE: Data for 1999 extrapolated.
SEI 2010: Undergraduate Degree Awards, Chapter 2.

S&E master's degrees earned, by field 1989–2007

NOTE: Data for 1999 extrapolated.
SEI 2010: S&E Master's Degrees, Chapter 2.

S&E doctoral degrees earned, by field 1989–2007

NOTE: Data for 1999 extrapolated.
SEI 2010: S&E Doctoral Degrees, Chapter 2.

Field of degree

The changing field composition of new S&E degrees is gradually altering the composition of S&E jobs and the larger U.S. workforce. And emphasis on higher-level S&E skills is growing: advanced S&E degrees have risen faster (70%–75%) than bachelor's degrees (about 50%) over the past two decades.

Across degree levels, the physical sciences, computer sciences, mathematics, and engineering have had weaker-than-average growth, but engineering doctorates have set records. Bachelor's and master's degrees in computer sciences have pulled back from their 2004 record highs to near levels set in 2000. The biological sciences and psychology have shown the strongest gains.

Foreign-born degree holders with highest degree in S&E, by field and degree level: 2003

SEI 2010: Migration to the United States, Chapter 3.


The U.S. S&E workforce continues to rely heavily on attracting foreign-born scientists and engineers, who are most highly represented in engineering, mathematics, and computer sciences, especially at advanced degree levels.

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