Scope of the S&E Workforce
The S&E workforce has shown sustained growth for more than half a century.
- The number of workers in S&E occupations grew from about 182,000 in 1950 to 5.4 million in 2009. This represents an average annual growth rate of 5.9%, much greater than the 1.2% growth rate for the total workforce older than age 18 during this period.
- Workforce growth in S&E occupations from 2000 to 2009 was slower than in the two preceding decades. Nonetheless, at 1.4% annually, it exceeded the rate (0.2%) for the general workforce, which barely grew at all.
Many workers outside S&E occupations have S&E training or use related knowledge and skills in their jobs.
- Individuals with an S&E bachelor's degree or higher (17.2 million in 2008) or whose highest degree was in S&E (12.6 million in 2008) substantially outnumbered those working in S&E occupations.
- In 2008, about two-thirds of those with an S&E highest degree but not working in an S&E occupation reported that their job was either closely or somewhat related to their degree.
S&E Workers in the Economy
Scientists and engineers work for all types of employers.
- For-profit firms employed 59% of all individuals whose highest degree was in S&E but only 35% of those holding S&E doctorates.
- Academic institutions employed about 41% of individuals with S&E doctorates, including those in postdoc or other temporary positions.
- About 19% of workers whose highest degree was in S&E reported they were self-employed in 2008, with two-thirds in incorporated businesses.
- Small firms are important employers of those with S&E highest degrees. Firms with fewer than 100 persons employ 36% of them.
S&E Labor Market Conditions
Workers with S&E degrees or occupations tend to earn more than other comparable workers.
- Half of the workers in S&E occupations earned $73,290 or more in 2010, more than double the median earnings ($33,840) of the total U.S. workforce.
- Workers with S&E degrees, regardless of their occupations, earn more than workers with comparable-level degrees in other fields.
- Industries with above-average proportions of S&E jobs tend to pay higher average salaries to both their S&E and non-S&E workers.
People whose work is associated with S&E are less often exposed to unemployment.
- Unemployment rates for those in S&E occupations tend to be lower than those for all college-degreed individuals and much lower than those of persons with less than a bachelor's degree.
- Unemployment rates for S&E doctorate holders are generally much lower than for those at other degree levels.
Demographics of the S&E Workforce
Women remain underrepresented in the S&E workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past.
- Women constituted 38% of employed individuals with a highest degree in an S&E field in 2008, but their proportion is smaller in most S&E occupations.
- From 1993 through 2008, growth occurred in both the share of workers with a highest degree in an S&E field who are women (increasing from 31% to 38%) and the share of women in S&E occupations (increasing from 21% to 26%).
- Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (53%) and biological and medical sciences (51%) and relatively low shares in engineering (13%) and computer and mathematical sciences (26%).
Race and ethnicity are salient factors in rates of participation in the S&E workforce.
- Hispanics, blacks, and American Indians/Alaska Natives make up a smaller share of the S&E workforce, with 9% of workers in S&E occupations and 11% of S&E degree holders in 2008, than their proportion in the general population, with 26% of U.S. residents from ages 20 to 70.
- Asians work in S&E occupations at higher rates (17%) than their representation in the U.S. working-age population (5%). Asians are particularly highly concentrated in computer and information science occupations (22% Asian).
- Within every S&E occupation, more than half of all workers are non-Hispanic whites.
A variety of indicators point to a decline during the recent economic downturn in the immigration of foreign scientists and engineers.
- After an upward trend in the number of temporary work visas issued to scientists and engineers for most of the decade, the number fell sharply in 2009. H-1B visas fell to 2003 levels, dropping to 72% of the number issued in 2007.
- Both the number and percentage of S&E doctoral degree recipients with temporary visas reporting plans to stay in the United States peaked in 2007 and declined in 2009 after rising since 2002.
- The proportion of S&E doctoral degree recipients with temporary visas who remained in the United States 5 years after receiving their degrees rose from 45% to 67% between 1989 and 2005 but fell to 62% in 2009.
The baby boom portion of the S&E workforce continues to age, nearing retirement.
- From 1993 to 2008, the median age of scientists and engineers in the U.S. workforce rose from 37 to 41. The proportion over age 50 increased from 18% to 27%.
- Between 1993 and 2008, increasing percentages of scientists and engineers in their 60s reported that they were still in the labor force. Whereas 59% of S&E degree holders between the ages of 60 and 64 were employed in 1993, the comparable percentage rose to 66% in 2006 before declining slightly in 2008.
Global S&E Labor Force
Worldwide, the number of workers engaged in research has been growing since at least 1995.
- Among countries with large numbers of researchers, growth has been most rapid in China, where the number of researchers tripled, and South Korea, where it doubled.
- The United States and the European Union experienced steady growth but at a lower rate than in China or South Korea; both increased from about 1 million in 1995 to nearly 1.5 million in 2007.
- Japan and Russia were exceptions to the worldwide trend: in Japan, the number of researchers remained essentially unchanged, and in Russia the number declined.
Among businesses located in the United States, R&D employment is disproportionately domestic.
- Although about one-third of total employment in these firms is located abroad, only one-quarter of R&D employment is in foreign locations.
- In manufacturing, the disparity between overall employment in foreign locations (41%) and R&D employment in these locations (25%) is substantial; for nonmanufacturing employment, the comparable proportions—24% for overall employment and 23% for R&D employment—are similar.
Preliminary 2009 data indicate a substantial shift in the balance between R&D employment by U.S. firms abroad and R&D employment by foreign firms in the United States.
- Whereas R&D employment abroad by U.S. multinational companies (MNCs) nearly doubled between 2004 and 2009, domestic R&D employment by these firms increased by less than 5% in the same period.
- U.S. MNCs employed many more R&D workers in foreign locations in 2009 than foreign firms employed in the United States. In contrast, these two numbers had been similar in 2004.