Chapter 3: Science and Engineering Labor Force


Chapter Overview

Although workers with science and engineering skills still make up only a fraction of the total U.S. civilian labor force, their effect on society belies their numbers. These workers contribute enormously to technological innovation and economic growth, research, and increased knowledge. Workers with S&E skills include technicians and technologists, researchers, educators, and managers. In addition, many others with S&E training use their skills in a variety of nominally non-S&E occupations (such as writers, salesmen, financial managers, and legal consultants), and many niches in the labor market require them to interpret and use S&E knowledge.

In the last half century, the size of the S&E labor force has grown dramatically—with employment in S&E occupations growing 2,510% between 1950 and 2000 (albeit from a small base of 182,000 jobs). Although the highest growth rates occurred in the 1950s, employment in S&E occupations in the 1990s continued to grow by 3 to 4 times the growth of other jobs.

This growth in the S&E labor force was largely made possible by three factors: (1) increases in S&E degrees earned by both native and foreign-born students, (2) both temporary and permanent migration to the United States of those with foreign S&E education, and (3) the relatively small numbers of scientists and engineers old enough to retire. Many have expressed concerns (see National Science Board 2003) that changes in each of these factors may limit the future growth of the S&E labor force in the United States.

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Chapter Organization

This chapter has four major sections. First is a general profile of the U.S. S&E labor force. This includes demographic characteristics (population size, sex, and race/ethnicity). It also covers educational backgrounds, earnings, places of employment, occupations, and whether the S&E labor force makes use of S&E training. Much of the data in this section comes from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) 2003 National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) and the 2003 Survey of Doctorate Recipients.

Second is a look at the labor market conditions for recent S&E graduates—graduates whose labor market outcomes are most sensitive to labor market conditions. For recent S&E doctoral degree recipients, the special topics of academic employment and postdoc appointments are also examined.

Third is the age and retirement profile of the S&E labor force. This is key to gaining insights into the possible future structure and size of the S&E-educated population.

The last section focuses on the global S&E labor force, both its growth abroad and the importance of the international migration of scientists and engineers to the United States and to both sending and destination countries elsewhere in the world.

National Science Board.