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Chapter 4. Research and Development: National Trends and International Comparisons


Worldwide R&D performance (measured as expenditures) totaled an estimated $1,435 billion (current PPP dollars) in 2011 (latest global total available). The comparable figure for 2001 was $753 billion, which reflected a brisk, 6.7% average annual growth over this 10-year period.

U.S. R&D increased to $406 billion in 2010 and to $424 billion in 2011 (table 4-1). At just under 30% of the global total in 2011, the United States remains, by far, the world’s largest R&D performer. Nonetheless, with other countries also expanding their investments in R&D, the U.S. share has declined since 2001, when it was 37%. From 2001 to 2011, the share of total global R&D accounted for by East/Southeast Asia and South Asia—including China, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan—increased from 25% to 34% in 2011. By contrast, the EU countries accounted for 22% of total global R&D in 2011, down from 26% in 2001.

China continues to exhibit the most dramatic R&D growth pattern. At $208 billion of R&D expenditures in 2011, China is the world’s second-largest R&D performer. While this is less than half the U.S. level, the growth in China’s R&D spending has averaged an exceptionally high 20.7% annually in 2001–11 (18.1% adjusted for inflation). By comparison, the annual growth rate for U.S. R&D averaged 4.3% over this same period. Corresponding average annual growth rates for the largest R&D countries of the EU (Germany, France, United Kingdom) are in the 3%–6% range.

The growth in total of U.S. R&D expenditures in 2010 and 2011 followed a shallow decline in 2009 ($1.9 billion or 0.5%), mainly the result of a drop in business R&D in the face of the national and international financial crisis and economic downturn that started in late 2008. But while small, this was only the second such (current dollar) decline in U.S. R&D since the early 1950s. R&D’s year-over-year expansion from 2009 to 2010 was 0.5%; for 2010 to 2011, it was 4.4%. R&D growth in 2010 was well behind that of GDP (4.2%) that year, but in 2011 R&D returned to the more normal circumstance of outpacing that year’s GDP growth (3.9%). The ratio of R&D to GDP dropped from 2.90% in 2009 to 2.81% in 2010 and rose slightly to 2.81% in 2011. The statistics for 2012 and beyond, when they are available, will be important in determining if the historic pattern whereby R&D growth matches or exceeds GDP growth has resumed.