Division of Science Resources Studies
DATA BRIEF Directorate for
Social, Behavioral
and Economic

National Science Foundation
NSF 99-339, April 6, 1999

Doctorate Awards Declining in Some Science and Engineering Fields

Susan T. Hill


Some broad S&E fields have been experiencing declines in doctorate awards.









In 1997, for the first time in almost 20 years, total doctorate awards in science and engineering (S&E) did not increase. After reaching an all-time high in 1996 (27,230), the number of S&E doctorate awards was slightly lower in 1997 (26,847). Although a 1-year decrease is not sufficient evidence for determining if this is a new trend, some broad S&E fields have been experiencing declines in doctorate awards for the past several years.

In several science fields, the number of doctorate awards has been declining since 1994. From 1994-97, doctorate awards in agriculture dropped 10 percent and those in the physical sciences 7 percent. Among the physical science subfields, physics doctorate awards declined 11 percent and chemistry 6 percent; however, awards in astronomy, a smaller sub-field, increased (table 1).

Table 1. Changes in selected science fields, 1994-97

In the broad fields of mathematics and computer sciences, doctorate awards declined between 1995 and 1997, after reaching all-time record high numbers in 1995. Doctorate awards decreased 7 percent in mathematics and 11 percent in computer sciences.

Engineering experienced an overall decline of 4 percent in doctorate awards between 1996 and 1997. Again, this 1-year decline in awards is insufficient for discerning a trend; however, because engineering graduate enrollment in doctoral institutions has been declining steadily since 1992, further declines in doctorate awards are possible. [1]

Two science fields maintained their doctorate awards in 1996 and 1997. Doctorate awards in the biological sciences were stable in 1996 and 1997 at about 5,700; in psychology, overall doctorate awards remained at about 3,500 in both years (table 2). The overall total of doctorate awards in psychology masks a slow decline in awards in clinical psychology since 1993 and a continuing increase in awards in nonclinical psychology fields.

Table 2. S&E doctorates awarded, by major field: 1988-97


The only major S&E field that has continued to increase is the social sciences, which reached a record high of 4,049 doctorate awards in 1997. However, the increases in this broad field have grown smaller since 1994.

This Data Brief was prepared by:

Susan T. Hill
Division of Science Resources Studies
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965
Arlington, VA 22230
703-306-1774 ext. 6915


[1] National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Studies, Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, 1997, table C-6.

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