The National Science Foundation

Science and Engineering Doctorates

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Which fields attract students?

As researchers expand their understanding of the world, new fields of study emerge and existing fields change. Observing which fields of study are attracting growing proportions of students can provide early insight into where future research breakthroughs may occur.

 

Doctorates awarded in science and engineering fields of study: 1992–2012

(Percent)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012. Related detailed data: tables 4, 7, 12, 13.

Field trends: Science and engineering

Doctorates in science and engineering (S&E) fields, particularly in life sciences, represent a growing share of all doctorates awarded. Overall, S&E doctorates accounted for 74% of all doctorates awarded in 2012, a substantially larger share than 10 years earlier (65%). The relative share of doctorates awarded in social sciences has declined over the past decade, the only broad S&E field to do so, even though the number of social sciences doctorates was 22% larger in 2012 than it was in 2002.

Doctorates awarded in non-science and engineering fields of study: 1992–2012

(Percent)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012. Related detailed data: tables 4, 8, 12, 13.

Field trends: Non-science and engineering

The number of doctorates awarded in education and humanities has declined over the past decade, leading to a large, steady drop in the relative share of doctorates in those fields from 29% in 2002 to 20% in 2012. The relative share of doctorates in other non-S&E fields remained fairly stable during this period.

Doctorates awarded, by citizenship and field of study: 1992 and 2012

(Percent)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012. Related detailed data: table 17.

Temporary visa holders

In all broad fields of study, the share of doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders is larger today than it was 20 years ago. In 2012, temporary visa holders represented the majority of doctorate recipients in engineering and over 40% of those in the physical sciences.

Doctorates awarded to minority U.S. citizens and permanent residents, by race, ethnicity, and field of study: 2012

(Percent)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012. Related detailed data: tables 23, 24.

Minority U.S. citizens and permanent residents

Among minority U.S. citizens and permanent residents, doctorate recipients of different racial or ethnic backgrounds tend to be concentrated in different fields of study. In 2012, Asians were the largest U.S. minority population in life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering; blacks or African Americans were the largest U.S. minority population in education; Hispanics or Latinos earned more doctorates in humanities and social sciences than any other minority group. Asians and blacks or African Americans earned similar numbers of doctorates in other non-S&E fields in 2012.

Doctorates awarded to women, by field of study: 1992–2012

(Percent)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012. Related detailed data: tables 14, 15, 16.

Women: Field of study

Women's share of doctorates awarded has grown over the past two decades in all broad fields of study. In 2012, women earned the majority of doctorates awarded in life sciences, social sciences, education, and humanities, and they earned nearly half of the doctorates in other non-S&E fields.

Although women earn less than 30% of the doctorates awarded in both physical sciences and engineering, their numbers are increasing rapidly in those fields. From 2002 to 2012, the number of women earning doctorates in physical sciences and engineering increased 60% and 66%, respectively.

Top fields of study for female doctorate recipients, by broad field and select subfield: 2002–12

(Percent change 2002–12)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012. Related detailed data: table 15.

Women: Growing fields

The fastest growing subfields of doctoral study for women over the past 10 years have been within the physical sciences (led by computer and information sciences) and engineering.

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