- U.S. S&E Labor Force Profile
- Global S&E Labor Force and the United States
U.S. S&E Labor Force Profile
Who Is a Scientist or an Engineer?
The terms scientist and engineer have many definitions, none of them perfect. This chapter uses multiple definitions for different analytic purposes; other reports use even more definitions. The three main definitions used in this chapter are:
- Occupation. The most common way to count scientists and engineers in the workforce is to include individuals having an occupational classification that matches some list of S&E occupations. Although considerable questions can arise about how well individual write-ins or employer classifications are coded, the occupation classification comes closest to defining the work a person performs. (For example, an engineer by occupation may or may not have an engineering degree.) One limitation of classifying by occupation is that it will not capture individuals using S&E knowledge, sometimes extensively, under occupational titles such as manager, salesman, or writer.* It is common for individuals with an S&E degree in such occupations to report that their work is closely related to their degree and, in many cases, to also report R&D as a major work activity.
- Highest degree. Another way to classify scientists and engineers is to focus on the field of their highest (or most recent) degree. For example, classifying as "chemist" a person who has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry but who works as a technical writer for a professional chemists’ society magazine may be appropriate. Using this "highest degree earned" classification does not solve all problems, however. For example, should a person with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in engineering be included among biologists or engineers? Should a person with a bachelor’s degree in political science be counted among social scientists if he also has a law degree? Classifying by highest degree earned in situations similar to the above examples may be appropriate, but one may be uncomfortable excluding from an analysis of the S&E labor force an individual who has both a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in business administration.
- Need for S&E knowledge. Many individuals identify their jobs as requiring at least a bachelor’s degree level of knowledge in S&E, although not all of them have such a degree.
*For example, in most collections of occupation data a generic classification of postsecondary teacher fails to properly classify many university professors who would otherwise be included by most definitions of the S&E workforce. The Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT) data partially avoid this problem through use of a different survey question, coding rules, and respondent followups.
Scientists Since Babylon
In the early 1960s a prominent historian of science, Derek J. de Solla Price, examined the growth of science and the number of scientists over very long periods in history, titling one book Science Since Babylon (1961). Using a number of empirical measures (most over at least 300 years), Price found that science, and the number of scientists, tended to double about every 15 years, with measures of higher-quality science and scientists tending to grow slower (doubling every 20 years) and measures of lower-quality science and scientists faster (every 10 years).
One implication of this long-term exponential growth often cited in popular science writing is that "80 to 90 percent of all the scientists that ever lived are alive today" (Price 1961). This insight follows from the likelihood that most of the last 45 years’ (a period of three doublings) production of new scientists would still be alive. Price was interested in many implications of these growth patterns, but in particular the idea that this growth could not continue indefinitely and that the number of scientists would reach "saturation." Not everyone is either capable of becoming, or wants to become, a scientist, and society will always need people to perform other jobs. Even if no other limits applied, the number of scientists could not exceed the size of the population. Although not predicting exactly when growth in the number of scientists would slow, Price was concerned (in 1961) that saturation had already begun.
How different are the growth rates in the number of scientists and engineers in recent periods from what Price estimated for past centuries? A doubling every 10 years would imply an annual average growth rate of 7.1%; every 15 years an average annual rate of 4.7%; and every 20 years an annual average growth rate of 3.5%.
All of these numbers are broadly consistent with a continuation of growth in S&E labor exceeding the rate of growth in the general labor force, both in the United States and in the world as a whole. Because none of the measures are the same as those used by Price, it is impossible to say that there has been a slowing in growth. What about the ultimate limit to growth for scientists and engineers in the United States? If the 1990s growth rates shown in
Who Performs R&D?
Although individuals with S&E degrees use their acquired knowledge in various ways (e.g., teaching, writing, evaluating, and testing), R&D is of particular importance to both the economy and the advancement of knowledge.
Individuals who are in non-S&E occupations do much R&D.
Growth of Representation of Women and Ethnic Minorities in S&E Occupations
A view of changes in the gender and ethnic composition of the S&E workforce can be achieved by examining data on college-educated individuals in nonacademic S&E occupations from the 1980–2000 censuses and the 2005 American Community Survey* (
In 2005, the percentage of historically underrepresented groups in S&E occupations remained lower than the percentage of those groups in the total college-educated workforce:
- Women made up 25.8% of college-degreed individuals in S&E occupations and 47.2% of the college-degreed workforce. Among doctorate holders working in S&E occupations in 2005, women were 30.6% of the total, while representing 34.1% of doctorate holders in the labor force.
- Blacks made up 5.1% of the S&E workforce and 7.5% of the college-degreed workforce.
- Hispanics made up 5.2% of the S&E workforce and 5.8% of the college-degreed workforce.
- Among doctorate holders working in S&E occupations in 2005, all underrepresented ethnic groups combined† (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives) were 6.1%, while representing 9.1% of doctorate holders in the labor force.
However, since 1980, the share of S&E occupations has almost doubled for blacks (2.6% to 5.1%) and more than doubled for women (12.0% to 25.8%) and Hispanics (2.0% to 5.2%). Among doctorate holders (measured only since 1990), women increased in representation from 22.8% to 30.6%; and blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives increased from 4.4% to 6.1%.
*The Census Bureau no longer reports postsecondary teaching occupations by field of instruction, so it is not possible to identify S&E professors from the decennial Public Use Microdata Sample, the American Community Survey, or the Current Population Survey. Postsecondary teachers of S&E subjects are identified in NSF’s own labor force surveys.
†Different ethnic groups were combined to maintain sufficient sample size for this estimate.
Global S&E Labor Force and the United States
High-Skill Migration to Canada and Japan
Recent debates and legislative changes in many developed (and sometimes less developed) countries have focused on visa programs for temporary high-skilled workers. Canada and Japan are just two examples of countries that have made temporary high-skilled migration important parts of national economic policies.
In 2005, Canada issued permanent visas to 189,000 immigrants with university degrees
A 1989 revision of Japanese immigration laws made it easier for high-skilled workers to enter Japan with temporary visas, which allow employment and residence for an indefinite period (even though the same visa classes also apply to work visits that may last for only a few months). In 2003, 268,045 workers entered Japan in high-skilled temporary visa categories, a 93% increase compared with 1992
* See http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/assess/index.asp, accessed 11 June 2007.
Foreign Scientists at the Max Planck Society
In many European countries, research institutes that are outside of formal universities play a very large role in basic research and graduate training. Research institutes often also have a major role in recruiting international scientists and engineers, very often to work in laboratories and classrooms where English is the working language. Germany’s Max Planck Society is an example of this phenomenon.
The Max Planck Society is a nonprofit research organization mostly funded by the German government. It is a notable part of both German and global science, with a budget of just under $2 billion in 2006, and with research performed at 78 separate Max Planck Institutes. The 78 institutes are run by 260 Scientific Directors, 28% of whom (in October 2006) are foreign citizens. Hierarchically just below the Scientific Directors are approximately 4,300 staff scientists, 27% of whom are foreign citizens. However, at the junior and guest scientist level, over half of the 10,900 are foreign citizens (54%, see