Chapter 3:

Science and Engineering Workforce


In 1947, the Steelman report discussed the science and engineering (S&E) labor force in a chapter entitled "Manpower: The Limiting Resource," in which it stated that research and development (R&D) activities were limited by "the availability of trained personnel, rather than the amount of money available." It reported the pool of scientists and "research engineers" in the United States to be 137,000, of whom 25,000 had doctorates. In 1997, the National Science Foundation (NSF) estimated that there were 3.1 million workers in S&E occupations and a total of 10.1 million workers with S&E degrees.[1] In spite of these larger numbers of S&E workers, there is more of a debate today as to whether the size of the S&E workforce is a constraint on new knowledge, innovation, and technological advancement. It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of those with S&E degrees, particularly at the graduate level, are employed in jobs that are relevant to their degrees, and intensive technical knowledge finds uses in many places outside the laboratory.

This chapter first examines the major indicators and characteristics of the S&E labor force. Information on the sex and racial or ethnic composition of the S&E workforce is presented next, followed by a description of the labor market conditions for recent bachelor's, master's, and doctoral S&E degree recipients. A discussion of the impact of age and retirement on the S&E labor force is presented next. The chapter also provides data on the projected demand for S&E workers over the 1998--2008 decade. It concludes with a brief section on foreign-born scientists and engineers, and presents comparisons regarding international R&D employment.



[1] Although this clearly shows great growth in science and engineering (S&E) education and employment, these numbers probably should not be used to estimate an exact 50-year growth rate. It is not immediately clear how the Steelman estimates were made, and the 1947 number may exclude many classes of workers included in the 1997 NSF estimate.

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