To understand the economic and scientific contributions of scientists and engineers, it is important to know how they are distributed across the economy and what kind of work they perform. This section examines the characteristics of organizations that employ scientists and engineers, including sector and size of employing organizations. This section also describes the distribution of S&E workers within particular sectors. The data indicate that individuals trained in S&E fields or working in S&E occupations are found in all sectors, including for-profit businesses; non-profit organizations; public and private educational institutions; and local, state, and federal government. This section also examines self-employed scientists and engineers, as well as the concentration of S&E workers by industry sectors and by geography.
The S&E labor force is often seen as a major contributor to innovation. Work such as patenting activity, R&D activity, and work-related training are indicators of worker skill level, productivity, and innovative capacity. In addition to collecting information on formal education and employment, SESTAT gathers data on the degree to which workers engage in such activities. This section concludes with data on these activities.
Throughout this section, data are provided for the broad SESTAT population of scientists and engineers, including those employed in S&E or S&E-related occupations as well as those with S&E or S&E-related bachelor’s or higher level degrees. Whenever possible, the data distinguish between individuals with S&E degrees and those working in S&E occupations.
The business sector is by far the largest employer of the broad S&E workforce covered by SESTAT, employing about 70% of individuals trained or working in S&E in 2010 (table
The relative distribution in the business, education, and government sectors has remained relatively stable since the early 1990s (figure
Some differences exist in the concentration of particular groups of S&E workers across employment sectors. For example, academic institutions are the largest employer of the SESTAT population with doctorates, even though the business sector is the largest employer of the overall SESTAT population. Whereas individuals employed in engineering occupations and computer and mathematical sciences occupations are largely concentrated in the business sector, those employed as life scientists and social scientists are more evenly distributed between the business and education sectors. The following discussion provides a deeper analysis of the economic sectors in which scientists and engineers work.
Overall, the education sector employs nearly one-fifth of the broad S&E workforce covered by SESTAT (table
Of scientists and engineers who are employed in S&E occupations, 18% work in the education sector (table
For-profit businesses. For-profit businesses employ the largest proportion of scientists and engineers (table
Non-profit organizations. Non-profit organizations have shown substantial growth in the percentage of scientists and engineers that they employ (figure
Self-employment. In 2010, almost 4.2 million scientists and engineers (19%) reported being self-employed in either an unincorporated or incorporated business, professional practice, or farm (table
Incorporated businesses account for the majority of self-employed scientists and engineers, with the exception of those with a highest degree at the professional level or those in social sciences occupations, who primarily work in unincorporated businesses (table
Federal government. The U.S. federal government is a major employer of scientists and engineers. According to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in 2012 the federal government employed approximately 325,000 persons in S&E occupations, which represents about 15% of the federal civilian workforce. Federal workers in S&E jobs are almost evenly distributed among computer and mathematical sciences occupations (33%); engineering occupations (32%); and life sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences occupations (36%). The vast majority (80%) of the federal workers in S&E occupations have a bachelor’s or higher level degree.
The five federal agencies with the largest proportions of scientists and engineers in their workforce are those with strong scientific missions: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (65%), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) (62%), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (60%), NSF (40%), and the Department of Energy (33%). The Department of Defense employs the largest number of scientists and engineers (150,000), accounting for 46% of the federal S&E workforce.
Among federal workers hired in 2012, about 9% were in S&E occupations. Nearly one-third of these newly hired workers were in occupations related to information technology.
State and local government. In 2010, SESTAT estimated that almost 1.5 million scientists and engineers (7%) were working in state and local governments in the United States (table
The vast majority of educational institutions and government entities that employ individuals trained in S&E fields or working in S&E occupations are larger employers (i.e., having 100 or more employees). These large organizations employ 88% of scientists and engineers in the education sector and 92% of those in the government sector. In contrast, scientists and engineers working in the business sector are more broadly distributed across firms of many sizes (figure
Workers employed in the business sector in S&E occupations are more densely concentrated in larger firms than the broad SESTAT population or even than all those with S&E highest degrees (figure
Many scientists and engineers who are self-employed work in businesses with 10 or fewer employees. In all, 82% of self-employed individuals in unincorporated businesses and 41% of self-employed individuals in incorporated businesses work in businesses with 10 or fewer employees. In contrast, only 5% of all other scientists and engineers work in businesses with 10 or fewer employees. Many of these scientists and engineers likely think of themselves as independent professionals rather than small business owners.
The OES survey provides detailed estimates for employment in S&E occupations by type of industry; however, it excludes the self-employed and those employed in agriculture and in recent startups. Industries vary in their proportions of S&E workers (table
S&E employment intensity, defined by an industry’s S&E employment as a proportion of its total employment, was highest in professional, scientific, and technical services (24%) followed by information (17%) and management of companies and enterprises (13%) (table
The availability of a skilled workforce is an important predictor of a region’s population, productivity, and technological growth (Carlino, Chatterjee, and Hunt 2001; Glaeser and Saiz 2003). The federal government uses standard definitions to describe geographical regions in the United States for comparative purposes. It designates very large metropolitan areas, sometimes dividing them into smaller metropolitan divisions that can also be substantial in size (Office of Management and Budget 2009).
This section presents the following indicators of the availability of S&E workers in a metropolitan area: (1) the number of S&E workers in the metropolitan area or division, (2) the proportion of the entire metropolitan area workforce in S&E occupations, and (3) the proportion of the nationwide S&E workforce in the metropolitan area. Data on the metropolitan areas with the largest proportion of workers in S&E occupations appear in table
S&E employment in the United States is geographically concentrated; that is, a small number of geographic areas account for a significant proportion of S&E jobs. For example, the 20 metropolitan areas listed in table
Because R&D creates new types of goods and services that can fuel economic and productivity growth and enhance living standards, individuals with S&E expertise who use their knowledge in R&D attract special interest. This section uses SESTAT data to examine the R&D activity of scientists and engineers. In this section, R&D activity is defined as the proportion of workers who reported basic research, applied research, design, or development as a primary or secondary work activity in their principal job (i.e., activities that rank first or second in total work hours from a list of 14 activities).
The SESTAT data from 2010 indicate that 27% of employed scientists and engineers reported R&D as a primary or secondary work activity. However, the proportion who do so varies substantially across occupations and degrees (figure
Nearly half of the scientists and engineers who have a highest degree in a non-S&E field but are employed in an S&E job reported R&D activity (47%), although they did so less often than those who have a highest degree in an S&E field and are employed in an S&E job (60%). Many S&E degree holders subsequently earn degrees in other fields, such as medicine, law, or business. The SESTAT data from 2010 indicate that the majority of scientists and engineers (67%) with a highest degree in a non-S&E field also obtained other degrees in S&E or S&E-related fields.
Those with doctorates account for a disproportionate segment of R&D performers. These individuals constitute only 5% of all SESTAT respondents but 11% of SESTAT respondents who reported R&D as a major work activity. However, the majority of R&D performers in the S&E workforce have bachelor’s (53%) or master’s (32%) degrees.
Among the SESTAT population employed in S&E occupations, life scientists (75%) reported the highest rates of R&D activity, whereas social scientists (49%) and computer and mathematical scientists (46%) reported the lowest rates (table
SEH doctorate holders in later career stages reported lower rates of R&D activity than those in earlier career stages (figure
For the most part, scientists and engineers performing R&D activity are distributed similarly across broad employment sectors as scientists and engineers who do not perform R&D as a primary or secondary work activity. About 70% of scientists and engineers in each group are employed in the business sector (68% and 71%, respectively), about 20% are employed in the education sector (21% and 18%, respectively), and 11% are employed in the government sector. However, within the education sector, 4-year institutions employ 66% of SESTAT respondents who perform R&D as a primary or secondary work activity, compared to 31% of those who do not.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants patents to inventions that are new, useful, and not obvious. Patenting is a limited but useful indicator of the inventive activity of scientists and engineers. Not all patent applications received by the USPTO are granted, not all granted patents result in commercial products, and not all R&D leads to patents because inventors often protect commercially useful discoveries in other ways such as copyrights and trade secrets. NSF data indicate that, among U.S.-trained SEH doctorates, 16% reported patenting activity during the period from 2003 to 2008 (National Science Board [NSB] 2012). Patenting activity varied significantly across disciplines, with doctorate holders in engineering and physical sciences reporting the highest rates and those in mathematics, statistics, and psychology reporting the lowest rates. Doctorate holders in engineering and physical sciences also reported the highest average number of patent applications per person and the highest average number of patents granted. For an in-depth analysis of the relevant data, see the NSB Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 (NSB 2012).
In addition to formal education, workers very often engage in work-related training. Such training can contribute to innovation and productivity growth by enhancing skills, efficiency, and knowledge. In 2010, 55% of scientists and engineers in the labor force reported participating in work-related training within the past 12 months of being surveyed (table
Among scientists and engineers who participated in work-related training within the 12 months before being surveyed, most did so to improve skills or knowledge in their current occupational field (52%) (appendix table