Cross-National Comparisons of R&D Performance

Worldwide R&D performance totaled an estimated $1.918 trillion in 2015, up from $1.415 trillion in 2010 and $722 billion in 2000. Fifteen countries or economies performed $20 billion or more of R&D in 2015, accounting for 85% of the global total. The top rankings at present continue to be dominated by the United States and China.

  • The United States remained the largest R&D-performing country in 2015, with gross domestic expenditures on R&D of $497 billion, a 26% share of the global total, and an R&D-to-GDP ratio of 2.7%. China was a decisive second, with R&D expenditures of $409 billion, a 21% global share, and an R&D-to-GDP ratio of 2.1%.
  • Japan ($170 billion, 9% global share, ratio of 3.3%) and Germany ($115 billion, 6% global share, ratio of 2.9%) were the comparatively distant third and fourth largest R&D-performing countries. The other 11 countries or economies in the top 15 were South Korea, France, India, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan, Italy, Canada, Australia, and Spain—with the annual national R&D expenditure totals ranging from about $61 billion (France) down to $20 billion (Spain).
  • Total global R&D increased (current dollars) more than two and a half times from 2000 to 2015. About 19% of this increase reflected the growth of U.S. R&D over this period, 17% from the European Union (EU) as a whole (including Germany, France, and the United Kingdom), as well as 5%–6% each from Japan and South Korea. Nonetheless, the largest contributor by far was China, which accounted for 31% of the decade and a half increase. The pace of growth in China’s overall R&D over this period remained exceptionally high, at just over 18% annually (or around 16% adjusted for inflation).
  • The U.S. share of worldwide R&D was notably higher in 2000 (37%) than in 2015 (26%), continuing to decline over this 15-year period. The EU also exhibited a decline over the same period: from 25% of the global total in 2000, down to 20% in 2015. The expansion was clearly driven by the economies of East/Southeast and South Asia—including China, Japan, South Korea, India, and Taiwan—which represented 25% of the global R&D total in 2000, rising to about 40% in 2015.

U.S. Business R&D

The business sector remains by far the largest performer in the U.S. R&D system. R&D is performed across a wide range of manufacturing and nonmanufacturing sectors. R&D intensity is concentrated, however, in a few industries.

  • The R&D performed domestically by U.S. businesses occurs mainly in five business sectors: chemicals manufacturing (particularly the pharmaceuticals industry); computer and electronic products manufacturing; transportation equipment manufacturing (particularly the automobile and aerospace industries); information (particularly the software publishing industry); and professional, scientific, and technical services (particularly the computer systems design and scientific R&D services industries).
  • In 2015, these five business sectors accounted for 83% of the $355.8 billion total domestic business R&D performance that year. Similarly, in 2008, the five sectors accounted for 84% of the business total.
  • Considering U.S. business as a whole, domestic R&D is mainly funded through performing companies’ own funds: 83% in 2015 (and similar shares for recent years). For the remaining 17%, where the R&D is performed by companies but funded by others, the largest source of funding is the federal government, whose funding accounted for about 8% of the business R&D performance total in 2015. Other companies located domestically contributed another 4% of the funding, and foreign companies about 5% of the funding. Nonfederal governments and both domestic and foreign nonprofit organizations also were sources but at very small levels. (Some notable departures from these aggregate average shares occur when specific sectors and industries are considered.)
  • Large companies (those with 25,000 or more domestic employees) accounted for 36% of all U.S. business R&D performance in 2015. Micro companies (those with 5-9 domestic employees) and small companies (10-49 domestic employees) together accounted for 5%. The other 59% was spread among the size classifications between these extremes. This distribution of business R&D performance share by size has not greatly changed in recent years.