Chapter 3:

Science and Engineering Workforce

Selected Characteristics of the S&E Workforce

The data in this section are drawn from the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT),[12]  which is a unified database containing information on the employment, education, and other characteristics of the nation's scientists and engineers. For a discussion of labor force indicators drawn from other surveys, see "The S&E Labor Market Since 1995: Indicators From Other Surveys." [Skip Text Box]

The S&E Labor Market Since 1995:
Indicators From Other Surveys top

Although detailed biennial surveys of individuals such as NSF's SESTAT allow examination of complex patterns and long-term trends in education and employment, they are less well-suited to tracking short-term changes in employment rates. Data from the 1997 NSF labor force surveys are still in the process of being collected, but other data may serve as indicators of changes in market conditions since April 1995. In general, these data suggest that labor market conditions are improving. This is consistent with improvements in the general economy, specifically with unemployment rates for all workers, as measured by the monthly Current Population Survey, which dropped from 5.7 percent in April 1995 to 4.7 percent in October 1997. Thus:

  • The American Mathematical Society surveyed 1996-97 new recipients of mathematics Ph.D.s in the fall of 1997. This soon after graduation, the unemployment rate was a relatively high 6.8 percent. However, this rate represents a large decrease from the 14.7 percent unemployment rate found for the 1994-95 Ph.D. cohort two years earlier by the same survey.

  • The American Institute of Physics estimated a 4.0 percent unemployment rate for the 1994-95 cohort of recipients of physics Ph.D.s in the winter after their degrees. The corresponding estimate of the previous year, for the 1993-94 cohort, was 5.0 percent unemployment.

  • In 1997, several S&E professional societies, in collaboration with the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, coordinated their surveys of new Ph.D.s. Among other common survey items, recent Ph.D. recipients were asked to characterize on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree) their agreement with various statements about their current jobs. Preliminary results are available for chemistry, chemical engineering, computer sciences, earth and space sciences, and psychology. New Ph.D.s in these fields showed much agreement that their current jobs were "at least somewhat related to my field" (average values within a field ranged from 4.3 for chemical engineering to 4.6 for the computer sciences); and that the job was "commensurate with my education and training" (mean scores of 4.1 to 4.4). However, there was less agreement with "position similar to what I expected to be doing when I began my doctoral program," with mean values ranging from 3.4 in psychology to 3.7 in the computer sciences.

Basic Characteristics top

Of the approximately 3.3 million individuals in science and engineering occupations in the labor force in 1995, only 2.2 percent (70,600) reported themselves as unemployed. The highest unemployment rate was reported for physical scientists (2.7 percent) and the lowest for social scientists (1.2 percent). By degree level, only 2.1 percent of the scientists and engineers whose highest degree was a bachelor's degree and 1.8 percent of those with a doctorate were unemployed, compared to 2.5 percent of those with a master's degree. (See figure 3-3.)

Employment by Field top

Engineers represented 42 percent (1.34 million) of the employed scientists and engineers in 1995; followed by computer and math scientists, who accounted for 30 percent (950,000) of the total. (See appendix table 3-4.) Physical scientists accounted for less than 10 percent of the S&E workforce in 1995. By subfield, electrical engineers made up about one-fourth (357,000) of all employed engineers, while biological scientists accounted for a little over half (169,000) of the employment in the life sciences. In physical and social science occupations, chemists (111,000) and psychologists (167,000) made up the largest occupational subfields, respectively.

Highest Degree Level top

Almost 58 percent of those working in S&E occupations in 1995 reported their highest degree as a baccalaureate, while 28 percent listed a master's degree and 13 percent a doctorate. (See appendix table 3-4.) Other professional degrees were reported as the highest degree type achieved by about 1 percent of the S&E workforce. Almost half of those with bachelor's degrees were employed as engineers. (See text table 3-11.) Another 34 percent had jobs as computer and math scientists. These occupations were also the most popular among those with master's degrees (40 percent and 30 percent, respectively). Most doctorate-holders were employed in the social sciences (27 percent), life sciences (25 percent), and physical sciences (19 percent).

Relationship Between Occupation and Education top

Approximately 83 percent (2.6 million) of those in the S&E workforce in 1995 had their highest degree in an S&E field; the exact proportions vary by highest degree level. About 74 percent of master's degrees were in an S&E field, compared to 94 percent of doctoral degrees (NSF 1995c). By field, almost 77 percent of engineers and 80 percent of social scientists were working in their highest degree fields. Similar proportions existed among physical scientists (73 percent) and life scientists (71 percent). By contrast, over 57 percent of computer and math scientists reported their highest degrees to be in other fields. (See text table 3-12.)

A large number of people trained in S&E disciplines routinely find S&E-related employment in nontraditional S&E occupations. For example, approximately 4.7 million people with S&E degrees were employed in non-S&E occupations in 1995; about 65 percent of these reported that their work was at least somewhat related to their degrees. (See text table 3-13.) Approximately four-fifths of both doctoral and master's S&E degree recipients who were employed in non-S&E occupations in 1995 reported that their jobs were closely related to their degrees, compared to three-fifths of bachelor's degree-holders.

Age Distribution top

Age distributions for S&E occupations are affected by historical S&E degree production patterns, net immigration, occupational mobility, morbidity, and mortality. For each degree level and field, the greatest population density occurs during prime productive years—i.e., during the late 30s and throughout the 40s. (See figure 3-4.) This trend reflects the pattern of S&E degree production over the last 50 years—rapid growth with a more recent slowing. Scientists or engineers nearing traditional retirement and high mortality ages are far less numerous than those in the early stages of their careers. This age distribution has several implications for the S&E labor force:

Sector of Employment top

The private for-profit sector is by far the largest employer of S&E workers. In 1995, 72 percent of scientists and engineers with bachelor's degrees and 59 percent of those with master's degrees were employed in a private for-profit company. Academia was the largest sector of employment for those with doctorates (43 percent). Sectors employing smaller numbers of S&E workers include educational institutions other than four-year colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, and state and local government agencies.

Among S&E occupations, there is a wide variation in the proportions of scientists and engineers employed in private for-profit industry. While nearly three-fourths of both computer and math scientists and engineers were employed in this sector, only one-fourth of life scientists and one-fifth of social scientists were so employed in 1995. (See appendix table 3-7.) Educational institutions employed the largest proportions of life scientists (49 percent) and social scientists (44 percent).

Salaries top

Median annual salaries of all S&E workers serve as an excellent indicator of the relative demand for workers in various S&E fields. In 1995, the median annual salary of employed bachelor's degree-holders was $48,000; for master's recipients, it was $53,000; and for doctorate-holders, $58,000. (See figure 3-5.) Engineers commanded the highest salaries at each degree level. The second highest salaries were earned by computer and math scientists at both the bachelor's and master's levels, and physical scientists at the doctorate level. The lowest median salaries were reported for social scientists at each degree level.

Median salaries for scientists and engineers rise steadily with the number of years since degree completion. For example, individuals who earned their bachelor's or master's degrees in the early 1990s earned about $15,000 less in 1995 than those who received their degrees in the early 1980s (NSF 1995c). For doctorate-holders, the difference is $18,000. (See text table 3-5 for salary comparisons of those with recent Ph.D.s.)

Women in the S&E Workforce top

The U.S. workforce has experienced dramatic changes in its composition during the last half of the 20th century. These changes are attributable in large part to demographic changes stemming from immigration and from birth rates that differ among racial and ethnic subgroups in the United States. The majority of net new entrants to the workforce are women and minorities. These general trends are also reflected in the S&E workforce.

Employment by Field top

Women comprised a little over 22 percent of the S&E workforce in 1995. (See figure 3-6.) Women are best represented in the social sciences, where they account for one-half of all workers; they are least represented in the physical sciences (22 percent) and engineering (9 percent). Among the science subfields, women are well-represented in biological sciences (40 percent) and in mathematics (33 percent). Within engineering subfields, women are best represented in chemical and industrial engineering (13 percent each) and least represented in aerospace and mechanical engineering (6 percent each).

Highest Degree Level top

By level of degree, 13 percent of women in S&E occupations report a doctorate as their highest degree—the same proportion as for men. (See appendix table 3-11.) Almost one-third of women report a master's as their highest degree, compared to 27 percent of men. The proportion of women in the S&E workforce is much greater for more recent graduation cohorts at all degree levels. With the exception of computer and math scientists, well over half of the women in each broad S&E occupation at every degree level received their degrees after 1984 (NSF 1995c).

Sector of Employment top

Women accounted for 28 percent of the scientists and engineers employed in four-year colleges and universities in 1995 and 39 percent of the S&E workers in other educational institutions. (See figure 3-7.) Only 18 percent of the scientists and engineers in private industry were female. However, this sectoral breakout was due to the extensive presence of women in social science occupations—a large proportion of which are jobs in educational institutions. Among the other employment sectors, women represented 42 percent of the S&E workers in private nonprofit organizations and 32 percent of self-employed scientists and engineers.

Sex and Salary top

In 1995, the median annual salary for women scientists and engineers was $42,000—about 20 percent less than the $52,000 median annual salary for men. (See figure 3-8.) This difference could be influenced by several factors. For example, women were more likely than men to be working in educational institutions, in social science occupations, and in nonmanagerial positions; they also tended to have less experience than men. Among scientists and engineers in the workforce who have held their degrees five years or less, the median annual salary of S&E women was 85 percent that of men (NSF 1995c).

The salary differential varied greatly by field. In mathematics and computer sciences and in engineering occupations in 1995, women's salaries were approximately 14 percent less than men's. There was a 23 percent salary difference in social and life science occupations. Women also reported the highest and lowest median salaries in these occupations: women earned the highest median salary in engineering ($47,000) and the lowest in the life sciences ($34,600). (See appendix table 3-13.)

Racial/Ethnic Minorities in the S&E Workforce top

Minorities, except for Asians, are a small proportion of employed scientists and engineers in the United States. Asians, who make up 4 percent of the U.S. population (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1997), accounted for 10 percent of all S&E workers in 1995. Blacks and Hispanics made up 3.4 and 2.8 percent of the S&E workforce, respectively, in 1995; yet they represented 12 and 9 percent of the U.S. population. (See text table 3-14.)

Employment by Field top

Among broad S&E occupations, Asians—84 percent of whom are foreign-born (NSF 1995c)—are the best represented minority group in computer or math sciences, physical sciences, life sciences, and engineering. In each of these occupations, Asians account for around 10 percent.

The underrepresented minorities—blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans—are more likely to enter the social sciences and least likely to enter the physical sciences. Blacks are the best represented minority group in social science occupations (5 percent). Blacks also account for 4 percent of computer and math scientists. (See appendix table 3-10.)

Highest Degree Level top

Proportionately, Asians tend to have higher levels of education than whites or underrepresented minorities. Almost 60 percent of Asians in the S&E workforce have a master's or doctorate degree as their highest degree, compared to about 40 percent for whites and 35 percent for other minority groups. (See appendix table 3-11.)

Sector of Employment top

Representation of minority groups differs by employment sector. Asians are the best represented minority group in four-year colleges and universities (13 percent), in industry (10 percent), and in the other employment sectors. Blacks are the second best represented minority in the Federal Government (5.4 percent) and in state and local government (5.1 percent). (See appendix table 3-12.)

Salaries top

Median annual salaries of Asian scientists and engineers in 1995 did not vary significantly from those of whites ($50,000 versus $50,400, respectively). In contrast, the salaries of other minority groups were generally 5 to 10 percent below that of whites. (See figure 3-9.) As with women, the salary difference was mostly due to the greater proportion of minorities in the lower paying social science occupations and to their having fewer years of work experience than whites. However, the salary gap almost disappears with more recent entrants into the S&E workforce (that is, those who received their degree five years ago or less), as the median annual salaries are about the same for all racial/ethnic groups (NSF 1995c).

In 1995, the highest median annual salaries for all racial/ethnic groups were in engineering occupations. Black engineers earned $48,600; Hispanic engineers, $50,000; Asian engineers, $52,000; and Native American engineers, $53,000. The lowest salaries for blacks were in social and life science occupations ($35,000); for Native Americans, physical science occupations were the lowest paying ($32,000); and for Hispanics, it was life science occupations ($37,000). (See appendix table 3-13.)

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[12] SESTAT data are collected from three component surveys sponsored by NSF and conducted periodically throughout each decade: (1) the National Survey of College Graduates, (2) the National Survey of Recent College Graduates, and (3) the Survey of Doctorate Recipients. SESTAT's target population is residents of the United States with a bachelor's degree or higher (in either an S&E or non-S&E field) who, as of the study's reference period, were: For the 1995 SESTAT, the reference period was the week of April 15, 1995.

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