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Employment in Science and Engineering Occupations reached 5.8 million in 2008

NSF 10-315 | April 2010 | PDF format. PDF  

by Mark Regets[1]

This InfoBrief is a report of employment and earnings growth for people employed in science and engineering (S&E), technology, and other S&E-related occupations, based on data derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Employment Statistics Survey (OES). Information about metropolitan areas that have high rates of employment in S&E occupations is also provided.

Employment by Occupation Group

Employment in S&E occupations[2] in the United States reached an estimated 5,781,000 by May 2008. This number was up 13.7% (a 3.3% average annual rate[3]) from 5,086,000 in May 2004, compared to the 5.5% increase in employment in all occupations (a 1.3% average annual rate) for the same time period.

Estimates of employment by broad occupational group within science and engineering are shown in table 1, along with occupations considered to be related to S&E. The 5.8 million individuals in S&E occupations represented 4.3% of all employment counted by the OES.

TABLE 1. Employment and employment growth in science and technology and related occupations: May 2004–May 2008.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Science and Engineering Occupations

The average annual growth in employment for all S&E occupation groups (3.3%) ranged from 2.3% for engineers to 3.8% for life scientists and social scientists, compared to 1.3% for all occupations covered by the OES. The ratio of estimated S&E employment growth to general employment growth of about 2½ to 1 is broadly consistent with long-term trends found in U.S. Census data.[4]

STEM Occupations

Studies and reports often refer to a broader definition of the technical labor force that includes other technical workers, as well as scientists and engineers. This definition is varyingly termed either the science and technology (S&T) or the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor force. As generally used, these two broader categories have the same definition: including technicians, computer programmers, and technical managers, as well as those in science and engineering occupations.[5] The broader aggregate may be thought of as S&E occupations plus individuals who directly manage S&E workers, as well as the technical workers who support those in S&E occupations.[6] Total employment in this broader set of STEM occupations was 7.9 million in May 2008. The distribution of employment across STEM occupations is shown in figure 1. Estimated STEM employment grew at an average annual rate of 2.3%, compared to 1.3% for the whole labor market. The increase in STEM employment reflected growth in S&E occupations along with a small decline in the estimated employment of technicians, programmers, and S&E managers.

FIGURE 1. Employment distribution across science and technology (or STEM) occupations: 2008.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

Several types of healthcare and technical (such as actuary or architect) positions are not classified as STEM occupations but are classified by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as S&E related.[7] Employment in these non-STEM S&E-related occupations increased at a 2.9% average annual rate between 2004 and 2008.

Annual Earnings

The median annual earnings for S&E occupations were $72,940 compared to median earnings of $32,390 for all occupations (table 2). The average annual growth rate in median annual earnings was 3.4% for S&E occupations and 3.5% for the broader set of STEM occupations, compared to 3.0% for all occupations.

TABLE 2. Annual earnings and earnings growth in science and technology and related occupations: May 2004–May 2008.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

A spread also occurs in average (mean) earnings: individuals in S&E occupations earned an average of $76,680 compared to $42,270 for all occupations. Average earnings in S&E occupations ranged from a mean of $67,980 for social science occupations to $84,120 for engineering occupations.

Metropolitan Areas

Science and engineering employment estimates are shown in table 3 for the 25 metropolitan areas or divisions[8] with the highest estimated S&E employment and in table 4 for the 25 metropolitan areas with the highest estimated proportion of their workforces employed in S&E occupations. For large metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) and New England city and town areas (NECTAs) that have multiple divisions, estimates for each of its metropolitan divisions, and not for the MSA as a whole, were used along with estimates for the smaller MSAs to determine the top-25 rankings reported in tables 3 and 4.

TABLE 3. Metropolitan areas with the highest estimated employment in science and engineering (S&E) occupations, by total number of individuals employed in S&E occupations: 2008.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

TABLE 4. Metropolitan areas with the highest estimated proportion of employment in science and engineering (S&E) occupations: 2008.

  Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

The Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metropolitan Division had the highest estimated number employed in S&E occupations, 244,950, followed by the New York-White Plains-Wayne Metropolitan Division with 208,210.[9] Due to their large workforces, three metropolitan areas with large numbers of workers in S&E occupations actually have proportions of workers in S&E occupations that are below the national average: the metropolitan divisions that include the central cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Data Notes

Tables and figures in this report were produced from a special public-use dataset created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for NSF from its Occupational Employment Statistics Survey (OES). These data differ from other OES public-use data in that employment and earnings are reported for new aggregate categories (such as S&E occupations and physical science occupations). Below the national, all-industry level, these aggregates cannot be constructed from other public-use data due to suppression for confidentiality.

OES estimates of employment and earnings are based on a survey of employers in nonfarm industries at 1.2 million establishments over a 3-year data collection cycle. They exclude the self-employed, owners and partners in unincorporated firms, household workers, and unpaid family workers. Further information on the OES survey can be found at www.bls.gov/oes.

For further information, please contact Rolf Lehming, Science and Engineering Indicators Program, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Room 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (rlehming@nsf.gov; 703-292-7810).


[1]  Mark C. Regets, Science and Engineering Indicators Program, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Room 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (mregets@nsf.gov; 703-292-7813).

[2]  Occupation is only one measure of the S&E labor force, and it understates the number of individuals engaged in S&E activities. Estimates from NSF's Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT) show 12.9 million workers in 2003 who say their jobs require at least a bachelor's degree level of knowledge in science and engineering. Despite differences in definition and in the way data were collected, the October 2003 SESTAT estimate of individuals in S&E occupations is 4,928,000, which is very close to the November 2003 OES estimate of 4,962,000. The SESTAT estimate for S&E occupations in 2006 is 5,024,000 compared to a 2006 estimate of 5,407,700 from the OES.

[3]  The geometric mean is used to calculate the annual rate of change.

[4]  For example, employment in S&E occupations grew by an average annual rate of 3.6% between 1990 and 2000, compared to 1.1% for all occupations. However, for 2000–2007 the difference narrowed, as average annual growth of S&E occupations declined to 2.2% and that of all occupations rose to 1.4%. See Science and Engineering Indicators 2010, figure 3-2, for comparisons of long-run growth in S&E occupations and of the general labor force: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/.

[5]  See SESTAT: A Tool for Studying Scientists and Engineers in the United States (NSF 99-337) for a discussion of NSF definitions of science and engineering occupations: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf99337/.

[6]  Any categorization of the labor force by occupation groups is necessarily imperfect. It is likely that some individuals in programmer occupations do have skills and functions that would justify classifying them with computer scientists. Conversely, some with occupations classified here as computer science may do very routine work.

[7]  In NSF publications based on its own labor force surveys, S&E-related occupations include all those listed in tables 1 and 2—primarily technicians, technical managers, and healthcare providers.

[8]  The metropolitan areas reported in OES correspond to a variety of the formal types reported in federal statistics, including metropolitan statistical areas, metropolitan divisions of metropolitan statistical areas, metropolitan New England city and town areas (NECTA), and NECTA divisions. However, these are not always defined in the same way as in other federal data. The area definitions used by BLS in reporting OES data can be found at: http://www.bls.gov/oes/2008/may/msa_def.htm.

[9]  The estimates in tables 3 and 4 are ordered by their estimated values. However these estimates include both sampling and nonsampling errors. Thus, the actual order of metropolitan areas may differ from what is shown in these tables.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
Employment in Science and Engineering Occupations Reached 5.8 Million in 2008
Arlington, VA (NSF 10-315) [April 2010]

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