Skip all navigation and go to page content

Chapter 3. Science and Engineering Labor Force


Chapter Overview

Policymakers and researchers have increasingly emphasized the importance of skilled people—what social scientists refer to as human capital—to both innovation and economic growth. As technical content spreads throughout our knowledge-based economy, the knowledge and skills associated with science and engineering (S&E) are increasingly necessary for workers with formal training in S&E who work in non-S&E jobs as well as for those in occupations traditionally classified as part of the S&E labor force.

Chapter Organization

The chapter is divided into five sections. The first section defines the S&E labor force and reports on its size and growth. It analyzes the interplay among occupational roles, educational credentials, and use of S&E expertise on the job. This section also includes a chart describing the main sources of data on the U.S. S&E labor force.

Section two explores the distribution of S&E workers in the economy. It describes employment patterns by sector and industry, with some special emphasis on the role private-sector firms play as employers of scientists and engineers. This section also reports data on federal workers in S&E occupations, thereby showing the roles of scientists and engineers in both scientific and other federal agencies.

Section three looks at recent and long-term trends in the economic rewards of participating in the S&E labor force. It includes data on recent labor market conditions, earnings, unemployment, and workers unable to find jobs in their field. Where possible, it contrasts S&E and non-S&E degree holders at comparable degree and experience levels. The section also includes broader measures of labor underutilization that go beyond long- and short-term unemployment rates.

Labor force demographics are covered in section four, including the growing role of women, minorities, and immigrants in the S&E labor force. This section also examines the distribution of S&E workers across occupations, sectors, and industries by degree levels and fields. Data on the aging of the S&E labor force and on its retirement patterns also appear in this section.

In addition, section four features a detailed analysis of salary differences among different demographic groups. This analysis explores the role of factors that are relevant to a worker's productivity (e.g., years of experience) and factors that are not directly related to job skill (e.g., demographic or personal background characteristics, such as race/ethnicity and sex). Trends in salary differences are also considered.

The final section of the chapter deals with the global S&E labor force. Although there are indications that the global S&E labor force has grown, there is little solid worldwide data on this broader labor force or its characteristics. Several U.S. and international data sources are used in this section to present indicators of worldwide R&D employment, international employment by multinational companies, and international engagement by U.S. S&E workers.