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News Release 16-138

Snapshot: R&D employment by businesses in the U.S.

Big companies dominate R&D employment, but small businesses devote a greater share of operations to R&D

R&D workers account for just over 1 percent of total business employment in the United States.

R&D workers account for just over 1 percent of total business employment in the United States.

November 7, 2016

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Companies active in research and development (R&D) employed 1.5 million scientists, engineers, researchers, managers, technicians, support staff and other R&D workers in 2013, according to a new report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES).

Although R&D workers account for just over 1 percent of total business employment in the Unites States, they play a vital role in creating the new ideas and technologies that keep companies competitive, create new markets and spur economic growth. The three largest industry groups in terms of domestic R&D employment in 2013 were:

  • Software publishing (181,000 R&D workers).
  • Pharmaceuticals and medicine (117,000).
  • Semiconductors and other electronic components (109,000).

Large companies dominated R&D employment, accounting for two-thirds of the total 1.5 million workers. However, small companies devote a greater share of their operations to R&D, due in part to the fact that small businesses include more startups. R&D workers make up 11.7 percent of the total workforce at small companies active in R&D, in contrast to 6.5 percent at large companies.

Women accounted for one-quarter of the 1.5 million total R&D workers, consistent with their underrepresentation in science and engineering fields of study. The fields that saw the highest rates of representation for women were pharmaceuticals and medicine, as well as scientific R&D services, a category largely made up of contractors that assist pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies.

Industries with large numbers of employees but low representation of women -- including software publishing and computer and electronic products -- typically employ R&D workers from educational fields such as engineering and computer science, areas where women have historically had low participation rates.

Two-thirds of business R&D employees in the U.S. were scientists, engineers or R&D managers, and the remainder were technicians or other support staff.

For more information, including a full breakdown of worldwide, domestic and foreign R&D workers by field of industry, read the full report.


Media Contacts
Robert J. Margetta, NSF, (703) 292-2663, email:

Program Contacts
Raymond M. Wolfe, NSF, (703) 292-7789, email:
Francisco Moris-Orengo, NSF, (703) 292-4678, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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