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Who earns a U.S. doctorate?

Each new cohort of doctorate recipients augments the supply of prospective scientists, engineers, researchers, and scholars. Data on the changing demographic composition of these cohorts reveal underutilized groups.

Doctorates awarded by U.S. colleges and universities: 1958–2013

(Doctorate recipients)
SOURCE: Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013. Related detailed data: table 1.

Overall trends

The 52,760 research doctorate degrees awarded by U.S. institutions in 2013 represent the highest number ever reported by the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). The number of doctorates awarded each year shows a strong upward trend over time—average annual growth of 3.4%— punctuated by periods of slow growth and even decline. The single-year growth in the number of research doctorates awarded in 2013 (3.5%) has been exceeded only three times in the past 20 years.

In every year of the SED, the number of doctorates awarded in science and engineering (S&E) fields has exceeded the number of non-S&E doctorates. The gap between the annual counts of S&E and non-S&E doctorates has widened over the past 40 years, with the proportion of S&E doctorates climbing from 59% in 1973 to 74% in 2013. The growth in the number of non-S&E doctorates awarded in 2013 (4.4%) was the largest single-year increase since 1992.

Doctorates awarded in science and engineering fields, by citizenship: 1993–2013

(S&E doctorate recipients)
SOURCE: Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013. Related detailed data: tables 17, 18.

Citizenship

The number of doctorates in S&E fields awarded to temporary visa holders grew to 13,436 in 2013, a 55% increase since 2003 and a nearly 6% increase since 2012. The number of S&E doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents also grew in 2013, but at a slower rate—a 39% increase since 2003 and less than 3% growth since 2012.

In 1993, 32% of all S&E doctorates were awarded to temporary visa holders. The proportion of S&E doctorate recipients holding temporary visas increased to 41% by 2007 but has since fallen to below 37% in 2013.

Over the period 2003 to 2013, 85% of the doctorates earned by temporary visa holders were in S&E fields, compared with 64% of the doctorates earned by U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Top 10 countries or economies of foreign citizenship for U.S. doctorate recipients: Total, 2003–13

(Doctorate recipients)
NOTES: China includes Hong Kong. Ranking is based on total number of doctorate recipients.
SOURCE: Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013. Related detailed data: tables 25, 26.

Countries or economies of foreign citizenship

Ten countries accounted for 70% of the doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders from 2003 to 2013, and the top three—China, India, and South Korea—accounted for more than half.

Sex and citizenship of U.S. doctorate recipients: 1993–2013

(Doctorate recipients)
SOURCE: Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013. Related detailed data: tables 20, 21.

Sex: Citizenship

Women are becoming increasingly prevalent in each new cohort of doctorate recipients, earning a majority of all doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents each year since 2002 and earning one-third of all doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders over that period. Overall, women earned 46% of all doctorates in 2013. The total number of doctorate recipients increased for both men and women every year from 2002 until 2009. After a decline in 2010, the number of male and female doctorate recipients increased in each of the next 3 years among both temporary visa holders and U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Sex and field of study of U.S. doctorate recipients: 1993–2013

(Doctorate recipients)
SOURCE: Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013. Related detailed data: tables 14, 15, 16.

Sex: Field of study

Most of the growth in the number of doctorates earned by women has been in S&E fields. Women earned 42% of S&E doctorates awarded in 2013, up from 32% in 1993. Doctorates in S&E fields account entirely for the increase in doctorates earned by men overall, as the number of men earning doctorates in non-S&E fields fell over that 20-year period. The numbers of male doctorate recipients and female doctorate recipients in both S&E and non-S&E fields grew by more than 3% in 2013.

Doctorates earned by members of U.S. underrepresented minorities: 1993–2013

(Doctorate recipients)
SOURCE: Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013. Related detailed data: tables 19, 22, 23, 24.

Race and ethnicity

Participation in doctoral education by underrepresented minority groups who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents is increasing, as evidenced by a 70% increase in the number of doctorates awarded to blacks or African Americans over the past 20 years and a more than doubling of Hispanic or Latino doctorate recipients. Owing to these growth rates, the proportion of doctorates awarded to blacks or African Americans has risen from 4.5% in 1993 to 6.4% in 2013, and the proportion awarded to Hispanics or Latinos has risen from 3.4% in 1993 to 6.3% in 2013. The number of American Indian or Alaska Native doctorate recipients increased in 2013 yet remains near its lowest point of the past 20 years.