The S&E workforce in the United States has grown rapidly for decades.

  • From 1950 to 2000, employment in S&E occupations grew from fewer than 200,000 to approximately 4.8 million workers. The average annual growth rate of 6.7% contrasts with a 1.6% annual average growth rate for total employment.
  • Between 1990 and 2000, S&E occupations grew at a lower average annual rate of 3.6%, but this was more than triple the rate of growth of other occupations. Different data sources suggest the same rate of employment growth in 2005.
  • Between 1980 and 2000, the total number of S&E degrees earned grew at an average annual rate of 1.5%, which was faster than labor force growth, but less than the 4.2% growth of S&E occupations. The loose fit between degrees and occupations and the immigration of S&E workers helped to account for the different rates of degree and occupation growth.

The S&E labor force does not include just those in S&E occupations.

  • Approximately 12.9 million workers said in 2003 that they needed at least a bachelor’s degree level of knowledge in S&E fields in their jobs. However, in that year only 4.9 million were in occupations formally defined as S&E.
  • Fifteen million workers in 2006 had an S&E degree as their highest degree and 17 million have at least one degree in an S&E field.
  • Sixty-six percent of S&E degree holders in non-S&E occupations say their job is related to their degree, including many in management and marketing occupations.
  • Fifty-five percent of S&E degree holders who spent at least 10% of their work hours on R&D were in non-S&E occupations.

S&E occupations have generally recovered from unusually high unemployment in the most recent recession.

  • Unemployment in S&E occupations declined to 1.6% in 2006, down from the 20-year high of 4.0% in 2003.
  • Unemployment rates also declined in the S&E-related occupational categories of technicians and computer programmers to 3.1% and 2.8%, respectively, in 2006.

Changes between 1993 and 2003 in median real salary for recent S&E graduates indicate increasing relative demand for S&E skills during the past decade.

  • The mean real salary for recent S&E bachelor’s degree recipients increased in all fields, averaging 15% across all fields of degree.
  • The largest increases for recent bachelor’s degree recipients were in computer and mathematical sciences (23.3%) and engineering (20.4%).

Retirements from the S&E labor force are likely to become more significant over the next decade.

  • Twenty-six percent of all S&E degree holders in the labor force are age 50 or over. Among S&E doctorate holders in the labor force, 40% are age 50 or over.
  • By age 62, half of S&E bachelor’s degree holders had left full-time employment. Doctoral degree holders work slightly longer, with half leaving full-time employment by age 66.

The importance of foreign-born scientists and engineers to the S&E enterprise in the United States continues to grow.

  • Twenty-five percent of all college-educated workers in S&E occupations in 2003 were foreign born, as were 40% of doctorate holders in S&E occupations.
  • At least 41% of the foreign-born university educated in the United States in 2003 had their highest degree from a foreign educational institution.
  • About half of S&E doctorate holders in U.S. postdoc positions may have earned their doctorates outside of the United States.

The capability for doing science and technology work has increased throughout the world.

  • From 1994 to 2004, R&D employment outside the United States by U.S. firms increased by 76%, compared with a 31% increase in R&D employment by the same firms in the United States, and an 18% increase in U.S. R&D employment at the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms.

The proportions of women, blacks, and Hispanics in S&E occupations have continued to grow over time, but are still less than their proportions of the population.

  • Women were 12% of those in nonacademic S&E occupations in 1980 and 26% in 2005. Women are a higher proportion of nonacademic S&E occupations at the doctoral level, increasing from about 23% in 1990 to 31% in 2005.
  • The proportion of blacks in nonacademic S&E occupations increased from less than 3% in 1980 to 5% in 2005. The proportion of Hispanics increased from 2% to 5% in 2005. At the doctoral level, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives combined represented just over 4% of employment in nonacademic S&E occupations in 1990, rising to 6% in 2005.

Postdoc positions have become an increasingly important stage in the career paths of S&E doctorate recipients.

  • Across all S&E fields, the proportion of U.S. S&E doctorate holders reporting ever holding a postdoc position reached 46% for the 2002–05 graduation cohort. Proportions are highest in the life sciences and the physical sciences.
  • There has been a steady growth in the availability of employment benefits for postdocs, with 90% now reporting having medical benefits and 49% reporting retirement benefits.
  • Former postdocs are moderately more likely than those with no postdoc experience to be in tenured or tenure-track positions, to have R&D as a major work activity, and to report that their job is closely related to their field of degree. However, these relationships are not necessarily causal.
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