by Thomas B. Hoffer, Carolina Milesi, Lance Selfa, Karen Grigorian, Daniel J. Foley, Lynn M. Milan, Steven L. Proudfoot, and Emilda B. Rivers
In 2008 approximately 752,000 individuals in the United States held research doctoral degrees in science, engineering, or health (SEH) fields, an increase of 5.6% from 2006. Of this, 662,600 were employed or actively seeking work. In October 2008, after the start of the recent economic recession, the increase in unemployment evident in the total U.S. labor force was less apparent among the doctoral SEH labor force. The unemployment rate was at 1.7% for SEH doctorate recipients compared with 6.6% for the general population. Unemployment rates were not significantly different for individuals with an SEH doctorate held for 2 years or less and those who had held their degree longer. Unemployment rates ranged from 1.0% among SEH doctorate recipients in mathematics and statistics to 2.4% for the physical sciences (table 1).
Table 1 Source Data: Excel file
Data reported here are from the 2008 Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), which collects data on individuals who earn research doctorates in SEH fields from U.S. academic institutions.
Data collected by the SDR over the period 2001 to 2008 show that approximately 1.7% of the doctoral SEH labor force reported being unemployed in October 2008, up from 1.4% in April 2006 but still lower than the 2.1% in October 2003 (table 1). In contrast, the unemployment rate for the total U.S. labor force was 6.6% in October 2008, 4.7% in April 2006, and 6.0% in October 2003. (See section "Data Sources and Limitations.")
Of the doctorate recipient population in 2008, 88.1% was actively participating in the labor force, that is, individuals were employed full time or part time, or they were not employed but were seeking employment (table 2). Of those who were not in the labor force (11.9%), a vast majority were retired, and the rest were not employed but were not seeking work. For comparison, in April 2006 the labor force participation rate was basically the same at 88.5%.
Table 2 Source Data: Excel file
Field of Doctoral Study and Years since Doctorate
Of the approximately 662,600 doctoral SEH degree holders in the labor force in 2008, about 651,200 (98.3%) reported being employed full time or part time (table 2). About one quarter (25.2%) of the employed population had earned a doctorate in the biological, agricultural, or environmental life sciences; 17.7% had doctorates in physical sciences; 17.8% in engineering; 15.2% in psychology; 12.5% in social sciences; 4.6% in mathematics and statistics; 4.4% in health; and 2.5% in computer and information sciences.
Across SEH fields of degree, full-time employment in 2008 was 77.0%, ranging from 67.3% for psychology to 91.4% for computer and information sciences. Part-time employment was most likely among those earning doctorates in psychology (21.1%).
Those who earned their doctorates more than 25 years ago were, as expected, more likely to be retired and out of the labor force: 28.7% of this contingent was retired in 2008 (table 2). As measured by the percentage unemployed, the most recent doctorate recipients did not differ significantly from those who received their doctorates before 2006. Part-time employment was lowest among the most recent doctorate recipients (4.9%) and was generally higher among the more experienced cohorts.
Employed female doctorate recipients in SEH fields constituted 30.7% of all employed SEH doctorate holders in October 2008, up from 29.4% in April 2006. In 2008 the labor force participation rate among SEH doctorate holders was 89.7% for women compared with 87.4% for men (table 3). Female SEH doctorate holders (73.4%) were less likely than their male counterparts (78.5%) to be employed full time in 2008 but were more likely to be employed part time (14.7% of women, 7.4% of men). Female SEH doctorate holders (6.0%) were also less likely than their male counterparts (11.9%) to be retired. The proportions of men (1.5%) and women (1.6%) who reported themselves as in the labor force but not employed were not significantly different.
Table 3 Source Data: Excel file
Underrepresented minorities—American Indians/Alaska Natives, blacks, Hispanics, and Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders—collectively constituted 6.4% of all SEH doctorate recipients in the labor force. A large majority of the employed SEH doctorate population was non-Hispanic white (74.5%), followed by Asian (18.0%). Of the non-Hispanic doctoral population in 2008, 1.1% identified with two or more races. Non-Hispanic white doctorate holders were less likely to be employed full time than were their minority counterparts.
In 2008, 3.6% of the doctoral SEH population held temporary visas (table 3). As might be expected based on U.S. visa requirements, almost all of these individuals (95.7%) were working full time; a small fraction was not in the labor force in October 2008.
Four-year educational institutions employed 41.4% of all working SEH doctorate recipients in 2008. Private for-profit firms employed the next largest share of the doctoral workforce, at 32.6% of the total (table 4). Academic employment was most common for doctorate recipients in the social sciences (61.4%). In contrast, employment in private for-profit firms was most likely for doctorate recipients in the field of engineering (57.3%) (table 4).
Table 4 Source Data: Excel file
Data Sources and Limitations
All differences reported are significant at the 95% level. Percentage comparisons in this report are based on unrounded counts and may differ from percentages calculated from the rounded counts displayed in the tables.
The racial/ethnic categories in this report are mutually exclusive. The estimates on racial backgrounds refer to individuals who were not Hispanic and who identified only one racial background. Non-Hispanic individuals who identified as two or more racial backgrounds are reported as a separate group. Hispanic ethnicity refers here to all individuals who identified a Hispanic origin regardless of racial background.
Data for 2008 in this report are from the 2008 Survey of Doctorate Recipients. The SDR has been conducted every 2 years since 1973 (with a 3-year period between 2003 and 2006 for survey redesign) and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies on an occasional basis. October is the usual survey reference month for the SDR. However, in 2006 the survey reference month was April to accommodate the redesign of the survey. The SDR is a longitudinal panel study of individuals who have received doctorate-level degrees from U.S. academic institutions in science, engineering, or health fields and are living in the United States. SEH fields include biological/agricultural/environmental life sciences, computer and information sciences, mathematics and statistics, the physical sciences, psychology, the social sciences, engineering, and health fields. The SDR follows a sample of doctorate holders throughout their careers from the year of their degree award through age 75.
The total sample size for the 2008 survey was 40,093, of which 81% completed the questionnaire. The panel is refreshed in each survey cycle with a sample of new SEH doctoral degree earners selected from another NSF-sponsored survey, the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). The SED is a census of all individuals who receive a research doctorate from a U.S. academic institution in a given year (1 July through 30 June of the following year). For the 2008 cycle, a sample of individuals from the SED under the age of 76 who earned SEH doctoral degrees in academic years 2006 and 2007 was added to the existing 2006 survey panel.
Statistics on the U.S. labor force were obtained from http://data.bls.gov/PDQ/servlet/SurveyOutputServlet?data_tool=latest_numbers&series_id=LNS14000000 on 8 December 2010. These unemployment statistics are published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are calculated for the population ages 16 years and older, based on the Current Population Survey. Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work.
The full set of detailed tables from the 2008 Survey of Doctorate Recipients will be available in the forthcoming report Characteristics of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in the United States: 2008 at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/doctoratework/. Individual detailed tables may be available in advance of the full report. Please contact Lynn Milan (firstname.lastname@example.org; 703-292-2275) for more information. Data from the SDR are also available in the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT) at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/sestat/. SESTAT integrates information on employment, education, and demographic characteristics of scientists and engineers in the United States collected by three NSF surveys: the SDR, the National Survey of College Graduates, and the National Survey of Recent College Graduates.
 Thomas B. Hoffer, Carolina Milesi, Lance Selfa, and Karen Grigorian, NORC at the University of Chicago, 1155 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. Daniel J. Foley, Lynn M. Milan, Steven L. Proudfoot, and Emilda B. Rivers, Human Resources Statistics Program, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230.
 Health fields do not include medical doctors. For a listing of science, engineering, and health fields included in the 2006 Survey of Doctorate Recipients, see appendix table B-2 at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf09317/.
 Labor force is a subset of the population that includes both those who are employed and those who are not working but are seeking work (unemployed); other individuals are not considered to be in the labor force.
 The length of time since doctorate receipt is associated with age: Median age of those with more than 25 years since doctorate is 64 years, and median age is 44 years for those with 25 or fewer years since doctorate.
 Two measures of unemployment are used in this report: (1) the unemployment rate as noted in table 1, which is based on the count of doctorate recipients in the labor force, and (2) the percentage unemployed as noted in tables 2 and 3, which is based on the count of all doctorate recipients, regardless of whether they are in the labor force.
 The category "underrepresented minorities" comprises the racial/ethnic groups whose representation in science, engineering, and health fields is smaller than their representation in the U.S. population.